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Faculty Report
David Arendale
Faculty advisor for outreach

Using Emerging Technology to Integrate Learning Strategies Within an Introductory History Course

I have selected the use of emerging Internet technologies as a research project during the fall semester. The specific use of the technology is facilitating student mastery of learning strategies and increasing positive academic outcomes in a rigorous entry-level college history course. While there is increasing use of emerging technologies in education, little rigorous evaluation has occurred regarding their effectiveness for academic development and support. More than just using these technology tools, this research project focuses on employing them as a means to discuss and have students practice use of various learning strategies directly with the academic content material. This effort may provide a potential model for adoption by other colleagues in the profession as well as by traditional core-curriculum instructors.

The Problem

The emerging field of Web 2.0 applications are new and in desperate need of thoughtful pilot studies and careful program evaluation which may lead to identification of best teaching and learning practices. Traditional Internet tools have been used for several years with students (e.g., Web pages, email, online chat rooms, online tutoring).

A new set of Internet applications is now emerging, the “Web 2.0 applications.” While active learning has been a strong theme in the recent era, these Internet tools provide new venues that appeal to today's students. Some examples of these Web 2.0 technologies are blog pages, wiki pages, Web conferencing, and podcasting. A unifying feature of these new applications is the opportunity for collaboration of both the developers and users or consumers. Blog pages are Web sites where people can post messages and others can reply to them. Wiki pages, as best known by the Wikipedia online encyclopedia, are Web pages which a group can co-create and co-edit. Web conferencing permits two-way communication among the presenters and the learners. Podcasting allows a group to create a “radio show” series on a topic and others can then download the show from the Internet to listen to, either with a desktop computer, an iPod, or similar MP3 player.

Objectives for Students

The following are the primary objectives for students enrolled in my introductory college course in history during Fall 2006.

  • Increase engagement of students with the learning process through direct involvement with producing and sharing new information related to the course.
  • Stimulate learning through use of emerging technology-based learning venues.
  • Build a sense of community by involving students in teaching one another.
  • Empower students to become co-producers of the learning process and the outcomes.
  • Increase student motivation for listening to the podcast show by integrating music and its selection by students into the learning process.
  • Improve measurable student outcomes such as lower rates of course withdrawal and higher final course grades.

Technology Tools

The following are the Web 2.0 emerging learning technologies that will be used in my introductory course in history.

  • Course blog page (open for contributions by all students). An ongoing conversation of topics raised during class lectures among the course instructor and students in the class.
  • Course wiki Web page (open for contributions and editing by all students). A study guide for the course will be co-created that includes chapter summaries, key vocabulary definitions, potential exam question samples, and Web links to other sites that provide enrichment learning opportunities.
  • Course podcast series (open for students who volunteer).
  • Narrated PowerPoint presentations (presented for students as alternative when course instructor is out-of-town attending a professional conference). Web links to these online presentations will be announced through the course blog page.
  • Virtual office hour in addition to traditional office hours. (Instructor uses one-way video and audio with student interaction through online chat one evening weekly. Other traditional meetings held in the instructor's office throughout the week.)
  • Course WebCT resources (provided by course faculty member). These are static information resources provided by the course instructor to support learning activities in the course (e.g., incomplete outlines of PowerPoint slides displayed during class).

Program Evaluation

Students in the introductory history course will be the subjects of the research study. After gaining approval through the Institutional Review Board, a research study will investigate the potential effects of independent variables of the selected technology tools (described in the above section) with dependent variables of student outcomes (course withdrawal rates, final course grades, student course satisfaction ratings). The regression analysis would include pre-entry attribute variables (high school rank, composite admission test scores) as controlling variables. Pre-entry student data and final course data would be obtained from the Registrar's Office. Student usage rates and reactions to the different Internet learning tools would be collected through a student survey that would be collected by a third party and held until after course grades are submitted. This would ensure that there was no potential bias by the course instructor regarding the assigning of grades due to student use of the Internet tools. The analysis of the data will occur during Spring 2007, resulting in a report by May 2007. The results of the pilot study will be submitted for presentation at a conference, and a manuscript that describes the pilot test and its results will be submitted to several professional journals.

Potential Significance

While institutional funds and personnel increasingly are being devoted to use of instructional technology, as exemplified by blogs, wikis, podcasts, and the like, there are few evaluation studies of their effectiveness with improving student outcomes. This pilot study seeks to investigate these technologies and report their effectiveness for a wider audience. This may lead to encouraging others to conduct confirmatory studies of the initial pilot study findings as well as to identification of best practices for adoption by other professionals in the field.

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