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Online Learning Case Study


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In response to John's request for more seminar threads on applying e-learning in the classroom I have reproduced an LSDA Case Study I undertook on developing online classroom resources and online courses. It may stimulate some interesting debate :rolleyes:

VLSP case-study report Dartford Technology College

Part 1 – Overview of institution/consortium

Dartford Technology College (DTC) is a non-selective 11–18 girls specialist technology college in a highly selective and competitive local environment. Within the town of Dartford and nearby Wilmington there are four grammar schools, a city technology college, a large FE college and a non-selective mixed school all offering post-16 provision and all competing in the local post-16 market. DTC is a Technology College with a particular specialism in ICT. Since achieving Technology College status in 1997, Dartford’s GCSE A–C pass rates have risen from 32% to 57%.DTC is a college of approximately 800 students with 100 in the sixth form. It is popular and oversubscribed. Sixth form numbers have doubled over the last fiveyears and continue to grow steadily as course provision develops in response tothe challenges of Curriculum 2000. Average points score for students leaving the sixth form after advanced programmes of study is currently 16 and on an upwardspiral as the breadth of course options develops. DTC has enthusiastically embraced post-16 collaboration with other institutions. A groundbreaking collaborative agreement exists between DTC and the local girls grammar school through which we offer advanced vocational qualificationsto grammar students in return for access to an option block of A-level provision. The great proximity of the two institutions allied to very positive staff relations has resulted in considerable, measurable success for this initiative. It has allowed for a much greater breadth of student options and resulted in greater curriculum balance in both institutions. A grant of £20,000 was awarded to the two schools by Kent County Council last year to develop collaboration further. A number of shared conferences exist also, the highlight of which is the yearlyChallenge of Management conference between Dartford Grammar School for Boys and Dartford Grammar School for Girls and DTC. Religious education shared day conferences also take place throughout the year. DTC has forged successful links with Springfield Lodge Nursery and is currently offering a Child Development NVQ jointly with this institution. The students spendfour days at the nursery on work placement and one day in college receivingtheory instruction. The scheme is being piloted at NVQ Level 2 in 2002 and wehope to be able to offer Level 3 in 2004. DTC also collaborates successfully with local businesses; most noticeably a public–private partnership between Ellite Consulting and DTC resulting in the

development of a state-of-the-art ICT training centre on the DTC campus. Ellite Consulting offers professional networking courses to the DTC sixth form free ofcharge and to other local institutions at a reduced rate. Through this initiative, close collaborative links are being forged with Wilmington Hall School – around a dozen of whose students attend an A Plus networking course at the trainingcentre after hours. Ellite Consulting has also provided and installed new networks for all our feeder primary schools and continues to offer consultancy services to the college as a whole. Currently the college is developing collaborative links with Axton Chase Comprehensive School in Longfield. Though these plans are currently in embryonic form, among them are priorities to: share post-16 courses, develop videoconferencing to share courses, investigate the possibility of jointlyemploying staff to share expertise and broaden staff development, and workclosely with local universities to improve inclusion in higher education. DTC is also working in close partnership with the universities of Greenwich, Kent and Canterbury Christchurch College. A compact agreement has been in place for the last eight years, which has greatly increased participation rates in higher education. Detailed plans have been drawn up recently to widen and develop this scheme focusing on raising the expectations of students from Year 9 in non-selective schools. These plans are being implemented this academic year. Post-16 programmes.

Below is a summary of the courses on offer to sixth form students at DTC.

Level 1 Foundation Health and Social Care GNVQ Foundation Business Studies GNVQ Level 2 Health and Social Care GNVQ – three days in college, two days at a relevant work placement Business Studies GNVQ – three days in college, two days at a relevant workplacement Business Administration NVQ – working within the college office Child Development NVQ – working at Springfield Lodge NurseryA Plus networking course at the open learning centre (evenings)Level 3 vocational courses Health and Social Care AVCE Business Studies AVCE ICT AVCE Level 3 A-level subjectsA1s and A2s are offered in the following subject areas: English LiteratureSociologyLawMedia Studies Drama Graphics Physical education Biology Dance(Italics denote courses run at the Dartford Girls Grammar School.)Key skills Level 2 All students who haven’t achieved the national expectation of Level 2 at GCSE Maths and English have the opportunity to retake. Retake tutorials take place for two periods in the week. Students also carry out a major core key skills assignment in two further timetabled lessons. Level 3 Students focus on one key skill to study at Level 3 and have two periods a weekin which they are taught. A major core key skills assignment is also carried out bystudents.

Time allocations The college operates a 35-period week: • full award AVCE is allocated 12 periods • A-level is allocated six periods• GNVQs/NVQs are full time when the students are in college• key skills are allocated two periods• GCSE retakes are allocated two periods. Tutoring Sixth form students are currently grouped into four tutor groups. There is 15-minutes’ tutor time a day and one period of PSE per week. Student choices At advanced level, students are encouraged to complete at least the equivalent of three full A-levels over two years. This may be made up of an AVCE with an A-level or two A1s, three straight A-levels, six A1s, or units of AVCEs with A1s andA2s.

This, of course, creates some fairly difficult timetabling, which has led the collegeto look at ways to make the day and timetable more flexible for sixth formstudents. Currently A Plus networking and PE A-level are taught after hours inthe open learning centre and I am engaged in an LSDA action research project that will seamlessly progress from this case-study report to develop distance learning online resources for A1 Sociology. Providing the project is successfuland a usable template is established, I will be working closely with the heads of department of other minority sixth form subjects to develop similar resources. The objective is that within two years at least two A1 subjects will be offered on adistance learning basis with a one hour after-school tutorial a week. Thus, we will be able to offer our students greater curriculum breadth and sufficient UCAS points for wider choice at the next level.The following evaluation of my GCSE online learning site www.historygcse.org is intended to inform the nature, shape and scope of the forthcoming distance learning resource for A1 Sociology.

Part 2 – The development or innovation Online learning case study

I have long been interested in the potential of the internet as a tool to enhance and support student learning, and in 2000 a number of factors combined to make me decide to develop a model and experimental web page for student use. Firstly, following the departure of our former college ‘webmaster’ to another job there was a period of inactivity for several months during which it was impossible for the existing website to be updated. Secondly, I had just finished some freelance work for www.samlearning.com developing their revision materials for history and had been greatly interested in some of the ideas developed at this site. Thirdly, the adoption of broadband technology at DTC meant that online learning in class time was becoming far more tenable. Finally, as an experienced GCSE examiner I believed I was well qualified to author relevant and usefulresources for exam candidates. The website itself is entirely my own invention working independently and out ofsome frustration with the lack of progress in the college main website. It developed over the course of an entire academic year and as such has progressed somewhat fitfully and experimentally, rather than as a planned and coherent whole. It is also regarded as very much a ‘work in development’. It is now used by all members of the History Department for class work and homework with their students. I came to write the site with very little experience of writing websites and virtuallyno programming skills. To construct the site I purchased a software packagefrom zyweb.com and started to learn how to use FrontPage in my own time.

I also scouted around the internet for software that would allow me to construct online self-marking tests and quizzes which are legion including Clever software, Hot Potatoes and Quia. All are very easy to use, requiring minimal ICT knowledge, and produce the desired effects without any obvious disadvantages. Once I felt equipped to attempt to build the site, I wrote its development into my departmental action plan for the academic year. The aims of the project were as follows:1. To encourage self-supported learning among non-selective pupils and thus contribute to an enhanced ‘culture of learning’ (normally lacking in a school of our nature) among Year 11 students. 2. To empower students to take more ownership of and control of their own learning. 3. To utilise the best qualities of the internet as an aid to learning viz interactivity, remote access to teacher as an aid to learning. 4. To construct stand-alone lesson resources linking to the best on offer interms of external links.5. To develop the history staff’s use of the internet suite ICT facility and interactive whiteboard, thus improving the general level of their skills and motivation. To meet these aims the main features of the site are:1. detailed lesson and revision notes 2. interactive multiple-choice, self-marking quizzes and tests 3. model exam papers and detailed child-friendly mark schemes based on the self-assessment technique favoured by samlearning.com 4. an interactive ‘ask a teacher’ facility 5. structured lesson activities linking to the best and most child user-friendlysites on a variety of topics 6. exam and revision tips and advice. Because of the nature of the development – evolving over two years and written by a busy head of department and head of year – the site has grown without an overarching plan or format and would not stand on its own as a distance learning resource. It does, however, provide an invaluable resource for the teaching ofGCSE History and has been used quite widely by other schools.

2.2 Strengths and weaknesses of current development/innovation

To evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the website I have interviewed both student and colleague users of the site and added their insights to those ofmy own. I have also analysed the GCSE results of the student users and drawn some relevant conclusions.

The first student I interviewed was Rachel. Rachel has a CAT score of 90, despite which she achieved six grade A–Cs in her GCSEs including a well-earned C in History. She is an extremely diligent student who took the trouble to type up her thoughts following the interview with me. They are recorded below.

"History website

Generally, the website was very useful to me and helped me a lot with my revision. The medicine revision page was the most useful to me, as I liked the way in which the dates and relevant information were presented in a chart. This made it easier to read and break down into periods of time. I was pleased that the site gave details of all the factors of change, as I needed to remember these for the exam! The way in which all the factors were explained helped a lot, as I was a bit unsure about which factors were linked to each period of time. To be honest, I didn’t really use the interactive tests that often, apart from during the lesson times. I found them quite useful, as they provide a quick and easy way to learn the information. There wasn’t too much text on one page and this made it easier for me to learn. I liked the idea of the multiple-choice tests as they helped me a little bit by giving me some options to choose from and all I had to do was think of the one that most made sense. One of the best features of the site is ‘Ask a teacher’. I liked this because it enabled me to get in touch with Mr Walker at any time and at home. It’s useful tohave a teacher’s opinion instead of relying on text books all the time. This also saves time instead of looking for information all the time. ‘Fling the teacher’ was good, as it is a fun way to learn as well. It also enabled me to test myself and see if I was making any progress, which is important. I was able to remember the questions and answers so that I could then hopefully get them right next time. The Year 10 lesson activity pages were excellent to use, as they allowed me to work through each period of time individually and I enjoyed using the different links. This page gives all the information the students need and is an excellent source of revision. My favourite part of the site was no doubt the ‘Ask a teacher’ link.


I think that there should be more pictures to help people who learn better fromcolour and images. "

I also interviewed our ablest student Gemma and one of our less-motivated students, Ashley. It became clear that Gemma (CAT score 115) had been

particularly helped by the exam practice past papers and online mark schemes. She asserted that they had given her a ‘better understanding of what the examiner was looking for and some idea of how to structure my answers to different types of questions’. She certainly did this successfully, achieving an A inthe examination proper. Ashley (CAT score 95, grade E in examination) was less impressed, however. Exam practice was seen as ‘too hard… boring’ along with the lesson and revision activities. Ashley hadn’t used the site much but had tried some of the interactive tests, which needed to ‘be more fun’. Ashley also complained that the website was used too much in lessons. The overall examination results of the group seemed to follow a similar pattern. The top end did better than expected, which I tentatively put down to greater access to me through the site and better understanding of the nature of the assessment in the examination thanks to features within the site. A significant number of the less able also did better than expected, especially those who reacted positively to having a resource that offered them greater control overtheir own learning. Over the study leave period running up to the exam I was regularly contacted by six of my 28 students via the site, all of whom did betterthan their predicted grades. However a ‘middling group’ of reasonably able girls (like Ashley) did worse than expected. They didn’t take to the resource and gave the impression that they would have preferred a much more didactic strategy verging on the ‘cramming’ that increasingly goes on in institutions of this type under considerable internal and external pressure for continuously improving examination results.

[/b]2.3 Learning points

Following my evaluation of the web page, the following learning points have been identified.1. Interactive web-based learning resources are becoming a far more practical option in schools and colleges with the introduction of broadband technology.2. Interactive web-based learning resources offer an excellent opportunity to encourage self-supported study, good study habits and home–schoollinks. They seem particularly suited to students of a certain level of ability,although attitude to study was an even more crucial factor. Many GCSE students did not expect to have to use the site after hours as this was not happening in any other subject. At sixth form level, where students are properly inducted into the nature of their ‘distance learning’ units, this may not be such an issue. 3. Far from being an imposition on teachers’ time, the ‘Ask a teacher’ facility actually saved time, as relative minor problems and questions from students could be dealt with quickly and efficiently. Moreover, the facility was also used for pastoral reasons with significant numbers of usually reticent sixth formers using the opportunity to communicate in a ‘safe’way.

4. The web page had a positive effect on many students’ actual grades and this is recognised and acknowledged by the students themselves. 5. The exam practice materials and self-assessment and marking modelled on samlearning.com were of especial use to the more able students in thegroup. 6. The interactive tests were of some use for developing factual recall but are not closely linked enough to the actual assessment objectives of the GCSE. They also could have been presented in a more colourful and exciting way to grab the attention of a wider range of students.7. The lesson activities using external links were successfully received by students and colleagues alike and provide an interesting start point for the new resource. 8. The design of the site is somewhat limited and needs to be more colourful with the inclusion of pictorial sources with more child-friendly appeal to a wider range of students. Professional technical assistance should be sought for the development of future materials. 9. A clear plan and structure will be needed in the new development. The piece-by-piece development of the history site over 18 months did not result in the most user-friendly or easy-to-navigate learning site. 10.The current site is not a stand-alone distance learning resource. However,in consultation with colleagues it has been agreed that such a resource is tenable for A1 Sociology, which will be developed as part of my ongoing research project for LSDA encompassing the both best features of www.historygcse.org and the insights of my Sociology and History colleagues. We are currently working on a template which includes: a) lesson notes B) interactive tests c) self-assessment and marking exam practice d) essay titles and essay plans e) colourful PowerPoint presentations f) weekly reading lists for tutorials g) live links to teaching staff.It is also our intention to make the resources available on CD-ROM for the minority of students without internet access at home. We will also investigate the possible use of web cams to further enhance home–school links. Much of this, however, will depend on time issues. Despite the pressure of time, I am confident that useful distance learning resources that will broaden curriculum choice for students, ease timetabling problems for the sixth form, increase student numbers and improve sixth form achievement will come from this exciting project.

The Sociology course can now be found HERE

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