Maximizing Students' Learning Success Through Lab-on-Line: The University of Namibia Experience

Maximizing Students' Learning Success Through Lab-on-Line: The University of Namibia Experience

Minda M. B. Marshall (LectorSA, South Africa), Simon George Taukeni (University of Fort Hare, South Africa & University of Namibia, Namibia), Rheinhold Disho Muruti (University of Namibia, Namibia), Gibert Likando (University of Namibia, Namibia), Cynthy Kaliinasho Haihambo (University of Namibia, Namibia), Mathilde Shihako (University of Namibia, Namibia), Chamelle De Silva (University of Namibia, Namibia) and Marshall M. (LectorSA, South Africa)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 15
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-0319-5.ch012

Abstract

This chapter foregrounds the Lab-On-Line project, a technological innovation developed to enhance visual processing skills, improve memory and vocabulary, and increase reading fluency with the explicit aim of improving comprehension. Thirty (30) 3rd year students at one of the University of Namibia campuses participated in the pilot study. A pre-test was conducted for placement purpose. Subsequently, the selected sample commenced with the Lab-On-Line program that consists of 20 lessons that were carried out twice a week over a period of five months. Thereafter a Standardized Reading Evaluation was performed to determine their language proficiency, reading speed per minute and comprehension ability. Results show that the majority of participating students had improved their perceptual development and reading speed (VPF), cognitive development and comprehension skills (CDF), and relative reading efficiency (AIUF).
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Introduction

Reading efficacy underscores all academic learning and contributes to the trajectory of a literate identity. A crucial expectation in reading proficiency is that students should learn how to interact critically and creatively with the visual information they have to master in their studies. A successful student is one who gains an extensive knowledge base that affects what they see and how they organize, represent, and interpret the information in their environment. Such knowledge later affects their abilities to remember, to reason, and solve problems. Hence, for experts, knowledge is not merely a list of isolated facts but rather knowledge comes to exist within an extremely organized and contextualized formation. However, researchers revealed that many students enter higher education with limited skills for analytic and critical reading (Boakye & Linden, 2018; Nel, Dreyer & Klopper, 2004; Maree, Fletcher & Sommerville, 2011). As a result, many students grapple to cope with the learning content and its volume. In addition, it is generally observed that students do not participate during class discussions that focus on prescribed reading texts, which can be attributed to lack of understanding.

In order to maximize their academic successes, the students need to be able to ‘read-to-learn.’ Therefore, reading cannot be separated from language learning and literacy in general (De Silva, 2010). Authors of reading research postulate that reading skills are not hard-wired into the human brain and thus every sub-skill has to be explicitly taught (Noble, Wolmetz, Ochs, Farah & McCandliss, 2006). Students need to be able to read fluently at a gauged speed with good comprehension. Therefore, it is safe to argue that reading fluency is a significant key in learning with good comprehension and should not be underestimated. Dysfluency becomes a barrier as students read less text. The theoretical support for reading fluency as a prerequisite for comprehension is advocated for in the automaticity theory as explained by Samuels, Rasinski and Hiebert (2013). Automaticity has a significant role in reading fluency and is defined as fast, accurate and effortless word identification on a single word level. In referring to automaticity, fluency should also take place within the context of silent reading (Samuels, et al., 2013). In the context of this chapter automaticity theory was adopted to ascertain participants’ word reading, speed, and comprehension. The theory helped to measure VPF improvement from level 4 to level 13.

Often, it is assumed that by the time students enter higher education institutions; they have already missed all the windows of opportunity for correct reading and writing skills development. However, the concept of neuroplasticity has changed the way researchers understand reading and comprehension development. Neuroplasticity is defined as the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. According to Demarin and Morovic (2014) neuroplasticity depends upon two basic processes, learning, and memory. They further opine that during learning, permanent changes occur in synaptic relationships between neurons. The human brain is constantly making new connections. Connections are reinforced because of focused and continuous use, thus, become stronger. On the other hand, connections that are neglected due to a lack of use become weaker. This then, at a simplistic level, explains why repetition in any form of learning is valuable, irrespective of age. Repetition, as a strategy, can therefore, augment the ‘muscle-building’ part of the brain; embedded within is a physical basis why repetition strengthens the power of choices and actions. Over time, these actions become automatic (Marshall, 2018).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Comprehension: A reader must have a wide range of capacities and abilities to comprehend. This include cognitive capacities (e.g., attention, memory, a critical analytic ability, inferencing, visualization ability), motivation (a purpose for reading, an interest in the content being read, self-efficacy as a reader), and various types of knowledge (vocabulary, domain and topic knowledge, linguistic and discourse knowledge, knowledge of specific comprehension strategies). The process involves simultaneously extracting and constructing meaning through interaction and involvement with text.

Visual Processing: The visual system is unique as much of visual processing occurs outside the brain within the retina of the eye. The information from the eye is carried by the axons of the retinal ganglion cells to the midbrain. The visual system initiates the processing of external stimuli. It controls eye movements during decision making both by top-down and bottom-up processes; learning significantly influences the speed and accuracy of fixations; decision makers trade-off between fixations and working memory; and fixated information influences decision making more than non-fixated information.

Perceptual Development: Perception is not a static process but is a dynamic and continually changing based on successive actions and perceptions. For perception to improve, advancing motor skills brings about a more efficient motor activity. The perceptual system recreates the surrounding environment in the brain based on information provided from the senses: vision, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. Therefore, perception provides the experience of the environment and is a means to act according to what is occurring in the environment.

Neural-Wiring: Neural pathways refer to the network of neurons in the brain responsible for visual representation. It activates the visual cortex as the brain views words. Initially, images are stored in the object area of the visual cortex. When the brain encounters a word repeatedly, it builds neural networks for spelling, pronunciation, and the meaning of the word. Neurons function partly on chemistry and partly on electrical impulses. The more often the neurons are activated, the stronger the wiring between neurons.

Scaffolded Reading: The role of language in scaffold reading performance is critical because talk is central to learning how to read; it is not an activity that can be learned simply by watching someone else do it. Thus, structuring the task’s level of difficulty, jointly participating in problem-solving, focusing the learner’s attention to the task, and motivating the learner. The teacher’s challenge is transferring responsibility for the task to the learner and therefore hints at the complexity of scaffolding. It is a flexible activity that offers guidance in comprehending, learning, and enjoying literature.

Eye Tracking: The eye tracking method is based on the characteristics of eye movements and the “eye-mind” assumption, which suggests that eye movements provide a dynamic trace of where attention is being directed. It is widely agreed that during a complex information processing task such as reading, eye movements and attention are linked. Eye-tracking methods involve information processing, such as reading, seen perception, visual searching, music reading, and typing. Measures of eye movements have revealed the fundamental cognitive processes and mechanisms involved in reading comprehension and visual perception.

Cognitive Development: Cognitive development is the construction of thought processes. How a person perceives, thinks, and gains an understanding of his or her world through the interaction of genetic and learned factors. Among the areas of cognitive development are information processing, intelligence, reasoning, language development, and memory.

Mind Activation: The movement of the eye is important for auditory and visual processing. It is located within the brainstem and between the two other developmental regions of the brain, the forebrain, and the hindbrain. Activation then proceeds from various portions of the brain, but primarily from the reticular formation, the nerve network in the midbrain monitors ingoing and outgoing sensory and motor impulses.

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