Monday, 23 February 2015

Encouraging learner voice and choice

Offering learners more voice and choice is increasingly being advocated as a way to improve engagement and personalise learning. Edna Sackson, from Inquire Within, also mentioned this to me following an earlier post. One of the ways in which I have attempted to achieve this is to give learners the choice of what finished product to submit at the end of the assignment. As ever with this particular assignment, student groups could choose any topic within the broader scope of genetic engineering (e.g. GMOs, cloning, forensic biology etc). However, instead of specifying a finished product that involved a report, or a PowerPoint presentation to the class, I gave them the option of what kind of final product to submit.

Upon completion of the assignment final products submitted included infographics produced in, presentation-style reports in Prezi, and PDFs created via Google Slides. Many of the students were unfamiliar with some of these applications, and so were finding their feet with them to some extent. One interesting observation was a student who was explaining to her group members how to find their way around Adobe Illustrator. This was a good example of the teacher stepping back and ceding peer teaching opportunities to the students – I’ve never used Adobe Illustrator in my life! Other spontaneous peer teaching included students showing each other tips and tricks in Photoshop.

Student feedback following an evaluation at the end of the assignment was generally positive, with some neutral responses. Encouragingly, there were no negative responses, although Thai students are often reluctant to criticize even via anonymous evaluation forms!  

Reasons learners gave for enjoying the assignment included the freedom it offered them, that it was fun, it enabled them to use their creativity, and it offered them the chance to learn new skills, such as how to use Prezi or make infographics.

I also asked learners what aspects they would change or improve. Suggestions ranged from having groups present their work to the rest of the class (even if the final product was not a traditional presentation format) to requesting that I assign (!) topics to groups because some groups were deemed to have chosen “easy” topics. Obviously, this latter suggestion would somewhat defeat the purpose of this exercise.

I’ll finish up with a couple of direct quotes from the students regarding this assignment. The first quote supports the idea that learners appreciate the chance to be creative, the second one – well, what can I say!

I really love this project because we have to use lots of skills not only understanding and writing but we also have to be creative to make an easy-reading infographic”.

Its kind of fun using technology with the subject which seems to be boring like biology”.