Andy Coverdale

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The Student Voice

What students are saying about their visual learning experiences

(with Claire Mann & Odessa Petit Dit Dariel)
Symposium presented at the SRHE Postgraduate and Newer Researchers Conference
Celtic Manor, Newport. 7 December 2010


Abstract

The notion of engaging, motivating, and empowering learners through learner-centred and personalized classroom design has become an increasingly popular topic of interest in a number of high-profile educational research studies, both nationally and internationally. These projects call for dramatic shifts in pedagogical strategies from traditional didactic delivery to more active, constructivist designs, and an increased use of Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL). But what do the learners think about their educational experiences? In a research study undertaken by the Visual Learning Lab (VLL) at the University of Nottingham, VLL Student Interns developed and carried out a Participatory Action Research (PAR) project entitled “The Student Voice: What students are saying about their learning experiences.” The main objective of this study is to use the students’ voices to develop staff development workshops as a method of feeding back comments made by learners in order to ultimately improve the quality of learning experiences in higher education (HE). Another VLL project running concurrently will invite students at the University to participate in a video competition to share their own personal learning experiences. 

Paper 1: Process – Empowering the student voice

This first paper on this theme reports on conducting the research project; the process and issues related to eliciting the student voice. 

In light of the challenges facing academics in HE (Theme 2) as they engage with the changes taking place in their classrooms as a result of these technologies and shifting paradigms, the VLL Student Interns used PAR as a means of enabling communication and collaboration between researchers, students and staff and to set the foundations for on- going ‘action-reflection’ cycles. PAR is a research method which is built on critical pedagogy and is particularly appropriate for this study involving students researching students. The research study has developed through a number of stages, starting with the Primary Investigators at the VLL engaging with community participants (Student Interns) to identify relevant learner issues. This led to the initiation of a research project (Student Focus Groups at a various departments exploring the Students’ Voice) and an identified action plan (feedback to staff and Heads of School through staff development workshops). As reflection is a key element in PAR, it was essential that the interns identify and examine the ways in which their roles as students may have influenced the extent to which participants shared their views, and how their perspectives influenced data analysis. 

Paper 2: Student voice on visual learning pedagogies

This second paper reports on the analysis and findings of the research relating to outcomes for pedagogy and praxis. 

Student interns have played an integral role in VLL activities since June 2008, working with Schools across the University to deliver workshops and provide training and support for both staff and students in new learningtechnologies and related pedagogies. This role was recognized as offering a unique position with which to undertake research which promoted the development of the ‘student voice’. A series of focus groups were conducted across the University in a number of Faculties and disciplines. The interns used a structured outline of basic questions based on generic and visual learning experiences to ensure consistency, whilst the semi-formal (informal?) format allowed further discussion to develop across a wider range of generic and discipline-specific issues in student learning. Adopting a grounded theory approach, analyses of the focus group transcripts were conducted collaboratively by all interns through face-to-face meetings and remotely using an online wiki. Emergent themes were identified and categorized around key pedagogical practices and mapped against a range of learning situations, environments and contexts. These themes and categories informed the development of key guidelines for good teaching practice which provided the basis for the staff development workshops, whilst key quotations from the transcripts were selected for the video. Findings revealed wide-ranging interpretations of what constitutes visual learning, whilst multiple aspects of visual learning were evident in discussions around specific technologies and learning contexts. 

Paper 3: Using the student voice to impact teaching development - a video workshop approach. 

This third paper reflects on disseminating the practical output from the outcomes. 

Staff development workshops initiate new cycles of PAR as academics make changes in their modules to incorporate comments made by students and begin their own ‘action-reflection’ cycle. In addition, our own cycle will be revised and refined through feedback from students/staff/audience such as this and other conferences. 

As Hargreaves (2007) purports 'what is the point of educational research if not to inform policy and practice.' It was therefore key that this research project offer tangible output from the outcomes which could inform changes in teaching practice. The student interns decided to make a video to visually represent the student voice to teachers in a development session. The paper reports on the two-tier approach taken to ensure personalised feedback for departments relevant to their localised pedagogy, as well as generic feedback to maximise the impact of the findings. The video was delivered in a participatory workshop environment in staff workshops and staff comments noted as part of the ongoing data collection and consistent with the PAR reflective cycle used at each stage of this project. This session will be a participatory video workshop demonstrating the approach used to disseminate the findings and to invite feedback from conference participants which may inform the PAR approach to our work and inform and maintain our reflective practice in this work.

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Andy Coverdale,
14 Oct 2010 13:07
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