A Reconstructed Conception of Learner Engagement in Technology Rich Online Learning Environments

A Reconstructed Conception of Learner Engagement in Technology Rich Online Learning Environments

Henry Gillow-Wiles (Southern Oregon University, USA) and Margaret L. Niess (Oregon State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0120-6.ch022
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Teaching and learning in a technology rich digital context challenge established thinking about student engagement in their learning. This chapter presents a reconstructed conception of learner engagement for online environments consisting of: engagement with community; engagement with technology; engagement with mathematics content; and an amalgam of all three. This descriptive, cross-case study combines current literature with the authors' past research to develop characterizations of these components of online learner engagement. This reconstructed model of learner engagement is the focus of the study, providing: 1) a vocabulary for developing a narrative describing how teachers as students think and learn with technology in an online environment and 2) a framework for mathematics teacher education professional development. Results indicate that this model supports teacher educators in both describing and evaluating how teachers as learners engage in a unit of instruction, and framing the course design and instructional strategy choices that support learner engagement.
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Student engagement has long been recognized as a critical component of successful learning (Pike, Kuh, & McCormick, 2010; Zepke, Leach, & Butler, 2010). Current research describes student engagement in relatively amorphous and vague terms, focusing on issues such as time spent studying, time spent in co-curricular activities, and taking part in effective educational practices (Carini, Kuh, & Klein, 2006; Trowler & Trowler, 2010). With teaching and learning transitioning to more digitally situated contexts, the onsite, face-to-face perspective of student engagement lacks the focus and granularity to adequately characterize student engagement in online learning environments where technology plays a critical role in both the teaching and learning. Furthermore, as education evolves incorporate online, digitally-mediated experiences, the existing conceptions of student engagement provide an insufficient framework for teachers to construct effective learning experiences. For these 21st century technology rich online learning environments, teachers need a more comprehensive concept of student engagement if they are to create experiences where the technologies serve as more than content tools used for multiple tasks, to: navigate the online environment, use as pedagogical tools, and use as objects to think with (Roepstorff, 2008).

Today’s teachers have not typically learned content using technology-based learning tools (Fanning, 1994; Rakes, Flowers, & Casey, 2012). For example, teachers likely have not explored and learned mathematics using dynamic tool sets such as those available in iPads. To teach with technology-based learning tools, teachers need educational experiences that support and engage them in learning how to learn mathematics with these digital technologies (Lee & Kim, 2014; Niess et al., 2009). They also need to learn how to effectively engage students with these new tools for learning mathematics. They need opportunities to rethink, unlearn and relearn ways that change, revise and adapt their mathematical content and pedagogy for engaging students in learning in light of the affordances of the technologies (Polly & Orrill, 2012; Srisawasdi, 2012).

Designing effective learning experiences that transform teachers’ knowledge becomes even more challenging when teachers’ continuing education courses are taught in online environments (Dabbagh & Kitsantas, 2012). To support teachers in creating effective online learning experiences, this research proposes an enhanced model of student engagement (hereafter referred to as learner engagement to include teachers as students who are learning to teach mathematics) consisting of four components:

  • 1.

    Engagement with the learning community;

  • 2.

    Engagement with the technology;

  • 3.

    Engagement with the content of the learning event; and

  • 4.

    Engagement within the intersection of all three.

This research investigates the proposed model for learner engagement as an effective framework for describing how students engage in their learning activities. Two questions guided this research:

  • 1.

    How does the proposed model of engagement describe how students engage in the online learning experience? This engagement would include, but not be limited to: interacting with other students and the instructor; interacting with technology as a tool to navigate the online learning environment (i.e. Blackboard to receive and submit assignments) and using technology as a learning tool (i.e. Google Docs to support collaboration); taking part in inquiry-based based activities where the student investigates the ideas and concepts in the course.

  • 2.

    How does the model inform teachers about learner engagement as a foundation for designing and facilitating online learning experiences? With a more descriptive model of online student engagement, teachers would be better prepared to create online learning experiences that facilitate this engagement. Additionally, with an effective model of online learner engagement, teachers would have a useful tool to evaluate and redesign online learning experiences to increase learner engagement.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Vernier Temperature Probe: Temperature sensor produced by Vernier for gathering real time data for all types of science and mathematics experiments in and outside the classroom with attending LoggerLite data collection software package useful for data analysis.

TPACK Components: Four components of transformed knowledge include teachers’: (1) overarching conception; (2) knowledge of students’ thinking and understandings; (3) knowledge of curricular materials; and (4) knowledge of instructional strategies and representations for teaching.

Blackboard: Virtual online platform that supports learner engagement, interaction and learning through technology and educational services.

Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK): The transformation of teachers’ knowledge for teaching their content with technology.

Engagement: The investment of time, effort and other relevant resources by both students and their institutions intended to optimize the student experience and enhance the learning outcomes and development of students, and the performance and reputation of the institution ( Trowler & Trowler, 2010 , p 1).

Social Metacognitive Constructivist Learning Trajectory: A learning progression that engage students in the intersection among social interactions, metacognitive reflections and their personal constructions of the content to be learned.

Online Learning: Planned educational experiences where technology plays a critical role in both the teaching and learning for learners at a distance rather than in face-to-face exchanges but in virtual exchanges of ideas. The challenge for instruction is to design the environment in ways that encourage learner interaction.

Community of Inquiry (CoI): Description of engagement in learning that lies at the intersection of student collaboration, effective instructional practices, and meaningful discussion centered on the concepts and ideas at hand ( Garrison & Cleveland-Innes, 2005 ).

Active Learning: Educational explorations where students are engaged in multiple ways for developing their understanding as they engage with the ideas through explorations with other learners as well as instructors using multiples instructional strategies to support the engagement ( Dixson, 2010 ).

Dynamic Technologies: Technologies where the output automatically updates, responding to changes in the user input.

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