Using Technology as a Tool to Improve Teaching and Learning Processes
A research proposal setting out a planned study concerned with the use of ICT in education, and looking particularly at how ICT can be used to make teaching the classics of English literature more relevant to today’s teenagers. An introduction looks at the background for the study, and its rationale, while subsequent sections set out the proposed methodology in detail.
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Introduction / Background to Study
This study is motivated by the need to discover the best ways to make English literature relevant to adolescents today. After all, in order to teach dusty, old 19th Century novels or Shakespeare or even modern day novels to groups of children/teenagers that are used to the language of the iPhone and the Xbox represents a challenge to most English teachers. However, it could also be said to represent an opportunity to ensure that these same English texts are brought alive in some way, showing how they continue to be relevant to young people today.Young people are typically large-scale producers of digital communications (Lewis and Moje 2009), and the phenomenon of texting means they are likely to write more than adolescents of 20 years ago. As such, an exploration of classic texts is arguably particularly relevant to their experiences.
The study is also informed by the role currently played by ICT in teaching. The aim of this part of the assignment is to understand how the spread of ICT can benefit education systems worldwide as well as the students being taught. It will also look at whether and how ICT can affect the outcomes of education with a world divided between the digital natives (those who have grown up after the spread of digital technology) and the digital immigrants (those who have had to learn how to use new ICT skills) (Lankshear and Knobel 2007). However, beyond this debate is a related debate: whether there are any benefits to using technology (and specifically ICT) in the classroom. Within the modern schoolroom the division is such that there are times when digital immigrants are teaching the digital natives using latest technologies with which the latter are sometimes more familiar. There is a related question which this brings up: is ICT always be beneficial to students, or can it be relied upon too much.
There are many subjects in which ICT has a definite place. Maths and science-based subjects seem to benefit from the interactivity that ICT can offer especially in terms of how Powerpoint and interactive whiteboards can be used for the benefit of students. Pitler (2009) suggests that the use of technology within the classroom can increase ‘student learning, understanding and achievement’ when applied efficiently (Pitler: 2009: 3). However, some critics note that technology can also be relied upon too much.Part of the challenge that teachers and educationalists face with technology’s use in education is that not enough is known about the technology used within education before it is utilised (Trucano: 2008). Only afterwards are the educational implications actually thought about. With both of these views in mind it could be argued that the teacher is in a position to consider the use of various programs or applications regarding their ‘appropriateness to learning objectives’ (Evans et al: 2009: 183) and whether they really need ICT to augment the learning of their students. There is also a question of whether ICT is appropriate to all subjects. While it is widely accepted within the UK that it has a role in all subjects, allowing pupils to produce well-presented work, for example (Capel 2005), there is perhaps an argument to be made that it should play a smaller role in subjects including English.
Another relevant point is raised by a research by Connolly and Ward (2008) entitled ‘Let them Eat Shakespeare’. In this study, they strove to question the placing of English Literature teaching and its list of prescribed authors in a 21st Century environment filled with ever-advancing technologies and changing ideologies. They point out that there are cultural, social and political forces in play which mean that the National Curriculum reflects a set of decisions made by those in power regarding what should and should not be acceptable to study, and also means that “proscribed authors are a force that acts against both democracy and the development of critical citizenship” (Connolly and Ward 2008, p. 21-22). Should many of the authors currently taught be rejected not because of issues about making them relevant, but because they reflect an unquestioned exercise in power and political control Perhaps, they suggest, a critical attitude towards dominant texts is what should be fostered?
In this context, the current study has been designed to investigate whether, by creative use of new digital technologies, ICT can have a place at the very heart of the English curriculum and help make classic works of literature relevant to students today.It also addresses the question of why such classic works might be relevant to students, and therefore why they should form part of the curriculum.
It is felt that this study can add to the body of knowledge already available. As technological changes occur at a rapid rate, academic research needs to be current in order to keep up-to-date with new types of technology, advances in ICT and new teaching approaches. In this context, it seems clear that more educational research needs to be done. In particular, it seems to be the case that teachers in general have an increasing challenge in enabling their students to learn. This fact seems to be consolidated by findings from Truscano (2008) and NATE (National Association for the Teaching of English) in 2011 which stated that English as a discipline has an ‘additional duty to educate….in the critical study of media and electronic texts’ (NATE: 2011: www.nate.org.uk [onine]). It is interesting to note that NATE (2011) emphasised the word ‘critical’ when discussing teaching students regarding electronic texts. This means that teachers (and especially English teachers) seem to be given the responsibility of enabling students to have the aptitude to think critically about the ICT they use as well as the texts that they read. In addition to the aims outlined above, this study will also address how teachers can help students take a more critical perspective on both the ICT they use and the texts they read.
2. Ethics Checklist
Does your research involve human participantsYES
Does your research involve accessing personal, sensitive or confidential dataYES
Does your research involve ‘relevant material’ as defined by the Human Tissue Act (2004)NO
Does your research involve participants who are 16 years and over who lack capacity to consent and therefore fall under the Mental Capacity Act (2005)NO
Will the study involve NHS patients, staff or premises or Social Services users, staff or premisesNO
3. Conceptual Framework
The conceptual framework for this study can be expressed as a series of related questions, below. Each inspires further questions and / or answers
Is it necessary to make classics relevant to children today?
Yes: children today write more than before
Debatable: ‘classics’ are determined by wider political and cultural power relationships. Need foster questioning attitude
How can we best make the classics relevant to children today?
What is specific about current situation – IT / Digital Technologies
Use of iPhone / Xbox / texting / personal computing
What is the Current nature of ICT teaching in schools?
Should all subjects embrace ICT equally
What tools are currently used within English classroom
What is current use of film / video technology
Can better / more creative use be made of film / video technology to facilitate student’s engagement with key texts
4. Research Methodology
The study proposed uses a mix of quantitative and qualitative research techniques, with a focus upon qualitative techniques. Qualitative research focuses upon small scale collection of data, looking at one or two particular incidences. It is primarily concerned with textual responses. It contrasts with quantitative studies, which are typically larger scale and collect data in numeric form. Quantitative studies primarily follow a scientific model of reality and knowledge in which a testable hypothesis is generated prior to data collection. Qualitative data, while lacking the statistical vigour of quantitative studies, can offer insight into the richness of experience (Babbie 2010). The researcher has elected to use mixed methods in order to capture the fullness of the area under study. It is a flexible approach that allows the researcher to build upon findings as they emerge, and which can incorporate reliability with detailed studies of participant experiences (Hesse-Biber and Leavy 2010).
The study also uses the approach of triangulation. Essentially, triangulation is used to ensure that the researcher is able to use at least three types of data (hence, triangulation) to either back up, complement or oppose other data that has been gathered. In many ways it is like a three-part jigsaw puzzle where when every piece of it is put in place then the picture is complete. However, Flick (2009) suggests that triangulation does not always have to be used in every context and that there are several questions that need to be asked by the researcher before it is (Flick: 2009: 446-447). These include the usual issues of cost and time as well as suitability to the topic being studied and legal issues (Flick: 2009: 447).Flick (2009) also suggests that the quality of the triangulation being used would need to be questioned and suggested several ways to do this. One of these methods of quality control was to do with the researcher being able to ‘combine’ methods effectively and asking about the ‘relevance’ that each single method had in the research: for example do the methods each address different levels relevant to the subject In other words, the researcher needs to ask him/herself whether the triangulation serves its purpose and how. It was felt that this approach, despite greater time and money costs, was justified in this instance in order to understand all aspects of the situation considered: the ways in which a film / video intervention might be used to make classic works of literature more relevant. The idea behind the use of triangulation of research methods that will be employed within this research project is therefore to establish a relationship between the research methodologies that would be employed and to integrate their results into a cohesive whole. The results of the questionnaires, the data obtained from the interviews as well as the data obtained from observations will be taken together and analysed to see if they support each other, and in what areas (if any) they seem to produce contradictory results.
5. Data Collection Tools
The study will look at two groups of students in year 10. This does raise an issue about sample size. If the sample of people questioned or observed is too large then there is too much evidence for the researcher to deal with and the data becomes too unwieldy to calculate accurately given the limited resources available to the present researcher. However, if the research sample is too small then the researcher does not have enough data to go on (Jacobsen 2011). In this case, the sample used also has to be representative of a larger group of pupils and has to reflect the social reality of the school in which the project is taking place as well as its surrounding area. Therefore, in order for the data to be truly valid it ideally needs to have a cross-section of pupils from all abilities and ethnicities.While these constraints would perhaps dictate a different approach in an ideal situation without constraints of time, access or money, in this situation the researcher was limited to educational groups to which she could easily obtain access.
For this study, the focus will be on two Year 10 English Literature classes who are learning ‘Macbeth’ as part of their GCSE coursework. Two interventions were designed as part of the study. Each of two groups, as part of the project, will be examining the scene where the Witches meet Macbeth and Banquo (Act 1 Scene 3). Firstly, both groups will be given a scene on a handout with questions on it relating to the scene and how it relates to the play as a whole, which they work on in pairs.Different film clips of the scene from different versions of Macbeth will be shown to them on YouTube. The students will then be given the task of answering questions on these clips. The questions will cover a number of areas including camera angles, special effects and character positioning, and how these can add meaning to the play. In another session, the pupils will be using the same act and scene of the play and acting it out in the sports hall.These sessions, and the experiences of being involved in them, will be the subject of the data collected during this study. The reason behind the two different interventions is to ensure that all learning styles (visual, auditory and kinaesthetic) are catered for over the two groups.
One of the groups (Group 1) will also be given their own laptops and their own wiki with which they can discuss different aspects of the play and this scene in particular while the second group (Group 2) will not be given any additional use of ICT in order to achieve the goal of re-enacting their own version of the scene. Group 2 will therefore function as a control group to assess the extent to which these additional tools facilitate learning.
Three types of method will be used to collect data: questionnaire, face-to-face interview, and ethnographic observation. These will be discussed in greater detail below. For all of these research methodologies there are both advantages and disadvantages in an educational environment especially if the researcher also teaches.
Questionnaires will be given out at the end of the sessions with the pupils and will be given to both groups. The questionnaires will contain a mixture of open, closed and Likert scale questions which will ensure that the results include both quantitative and qualitative data. Open questions are one where the respondent can express their general thoughts on a subject, for example “what did you find good about that experience”. There are no suggested answers, rather respondents should be encouraged to state everything that comes to mind on the topic. By contrast, closed questions offer a set answer list, from which respondents can chose one or more answers.This allows easy analysis of the data, although can limit the depth of the response. Likert scales are a special type of closed question in which answers from a sequential scale, perhaps from “I agree strongly” through “I neither agree nor disagree” to “I disagree strongly” (Bryman and Bell 2007). The design of the questionnaire for this study, including various question types, is intended to elicit a wide range of data, and make the process of triangulation easier, as results can be checked against each other (McNiff and Whitehead: 2009: 179).The questions in the questionnaire will ask students about their perceptions of the technologies used in classrooms, for example the extent to which they felt their learning was improved by individual technologies.A pilot questionnaire will be used to ensure that the questions included are the most appropriate, are easy to ask, and can be easily understood, and can improve the questionnaire in other ways (Cohen et al 2007).
It was felt that questionnaires offer advantages in the environment studied. They are, that is, relatively easy to distribute and, if they are administered correctly, are also unobtrusive. They should also take relatively little time for the participants to fill in. The advantage also with using questionnaires with students is that they can be incorporated into the lesson that they are doing. The teacher is able to hand them out, ensure they are filled in, and collect them without too much difficulty.However, the researcher is aware that there are also disadvantages with questionnaires within the educational environment. The educational researcher has to make sure that the questionnaires are anonymous or students have to at least be given the choice to give their name or not, in order to provide adequate confidentiality. Students might be reluctant to give their thoughts if they feel they are likely to be held accountable for their reactions. Questionnaires are also limited in the types of data that can be gathered. The range of types of questions needs to be varied in order to ensure that there is breadth of data both qualitative and quantitative. In order to ensure that ethical considerations in this research are fulfilled, both the head teacher and the Head of Faculty will be shown the questionnaires and the research proposal so that they are informed exactly what the project is all about. A declaration will also be drafted to accompany the questionnaire, to inform the students who fill it in of the confidentiality of the data they give, of their rights to withdraw from the study at any time, and giving an overview of the purpose of the study.
In addition to the questionnaires, the study will also collect face-to-face interviews with the students, about their perceptions of what they have learned. Again, these interviews would be based around perceptions that Year 10 students have regarding ICT use in the classroom. These interviews would use mostly open questions and would be semi-formal in order to produce a more conducive atmosphere. Face-to-face techniques have some advantages, for example they allow the researcher to help the respondent better understand the question (without leading the respondent in a particular direction), and they can generate fuller responses as the interviewer can make use of techniques of probing (Cohen et al 2007).Semi-structured interviews have advantages when used in an educational environment as they can be used as part of the assignment or lesson. They also offer more scope for the collection of more detailed and richer responses. As Burns (2009) suggests:
The aim of a semi-structured interview is to enable you to make some kind of comparison across your participants’ responses, but also to allow for individual diversity and flexibility (Burns: 2009: 75).
They can also enable the interviewee to be more relaxed and at home with the interviewing process thus enabling more information to flow (Burns 2009).
On the other hand, one disadvantage with the semi-structured interview is the concept of interviewer interference. This is the idea that the person doing the interviewing would hypothetically be in the position of affecting the outcome of the interview by asking leading questions that, either accidentally or intentionally, lead the interviewee into answering the question in a certain way.Bell and Opie (2002) as cited in Bell (2005) state that this can be a way of ‘overweighting’ the research to suit the interviewer’s bias and would therefore distort the figures produced. Bell (2005) goes on to say that researchers need to be ‘wise and vigilant, critical of our interpretation of the data, regularly question our practice and….triangulate’ (Bell: 2005: 167). This kind of reflective practice has its place both for teachers and for researchers.
In addition to the interviews with the students, a further 30 semi-structured, face-to-face interviews will also be carried out amongst teachers, looking at their relationship with the technology they use. These interviews will usually take place within the classroom and will be pre-appointed to cater for their busy daily schedule. Prior approval will also be obtained from the head teacher for these interviews and she will also be interviewed herself on the same topic. Her semi-structured interview may be worded differently as she is directly involved with how ICT is utilised within her school.
Finally the study will also include ethnographic observations of students within their learning environment, to see how they and the teacher interact with ICT (especially compared with ‘digital immigrant’ teachers). The purpose of ethnographic observation is to observe from an insider’s point of view (Bell: 2005: 17). In this case, observations will be carried out over a 2 week period, and the researcher will observe in the classroom situation how pupils from different classes and from different backgrounds interact with the teacher and whatever electronic learning and teaching aids they may use.The researcher will incorporate techniques from action research, such as interacting with the subjects under study (Greenwood 1999), in order to make their presence seem more ‘natural’ and accepted by the students. As well as this, the lessons that will be taught as part of the project will give the researcher the opportunity to observe how the students interact with the technology.
In terms of educational research, this type of approach involves contact with, and close observation of, the pupils that are being observed. It has many advantages: for example it allows the researcher to share perspectives with the people studied, in a way which is not allowed by other means. The researcher is able “to understand better why they act in the way that they do and to see things as those involved see things” (Bell: 2005:17). However, Bell (2005) as well as other critics, also cite a number of disadvantages with ethnographic observation such as time issues. One main challenge with ethnographic observation is the issue of representativeness. That is, to what extent can the findings in small-scale studies of this type be generalised and allow more wide-sweeping conclusionsIn this case, what may be typical of that particular group being studied may not be typical of another group within the school. So the validity of this project might be called into question, because the observed behaviour or views collected may not be typical of the whole school. I aim to overcome this drawback by including other types of research, and by setting the study in the context of the literature review, which will draw upon findings from other studies.
6. Proposed Schedule
Research design – – – – Planning – – – – Literature review – – – – Data collection – – – – – Data analysis – – – – – Dissertation production Draft – – – Final – – – –
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