TACTivities: A Way to Promote Hands-On, Minds-On Learning in a Virtual Learning Environment

TACTivities: A Way to Promote Hands-On, Minds-On Learning in a Virtual Learning Environment

Angie Hodge-Zickerman (Northern Arizona University, USA), Eric Stade (University of Colorado, Boulder, USA) and Cindy S. York (Northern Illinois University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-7222-1.ch014
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Abstract

The need to keep students engaged is particularly acute in virtual environments. In this chapter, the authors describe TACTivities (learning activities with tactile components), designed to help encourage student participation, collaboration, and communication. Originally developed for in-person instruction, TACTivities are readily adaptable to online learning environments. TACTivities are intended to foster a sense of play, creative problem-solving, and exploration among the students who undertake to complete these tasks, and also among the teachers who design them. Unlike other tactile learning ventures, which may involve various kinds of physical props, TACTivities entail only moveable pieces of paper, or electronic equivalents. This feature means that TACTivities are quite portable, and they are easily implemented, shared, and modified (particularly in remote settings). Further, TACTivities allow for inclusion of discipline-specific content, language, and formalism, while still cultivating physical engagement in problem-solving and critical thinking in any subject area.
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Introduction

K-12 teachers must make decisions in their classroom on a daily basis to help their students learn. Pedagogical reasoning (Niess & Gillow-Wiles, 2017) and technological pedagogical reasoning (Smart et al., 2016) help teachers make such decisions in their classrooms. One way to make such decisions is that K-12 teachers often use hands-on activities and manipulatives to cultivate creativity and playfulness in the classroom, and to engage their students in the learning process. Indeed, engagement (Claxton, 2007), creativity (Beghetto et al., 2015; Bourdeau & Wood, 2019; Cooper & Heaverlo, 2013; Nadjafikhah et al, 2012), and playfulness—especially creative play (James & Nerantzi, 2019; Michelman, 1971; Russ, 1998; Singha et al., 2020), have all been identified as key factors influencing student learning.

When K-12 students have something to do with their hands, they are likely to naturally play with that object and figure out how it works – whatever it may be. Remember Fidget Spinners? They were advertised as a way to provide students something to do with their hands that was quiet and not distracting (more specifically they were advertised for students on the autism spectrum, with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), stress, or anxiety) (see Schecter et al., 2017 for more information). So why not have those random objects in the students’ hands to serve a purpose and a so-called solution to a problem the students did not even know existed, or multiple solutions to really get their brain juices flowing? Such approaches have been implemented in face-to-face environments; now the challenge is to find ways to apply similar approaches to help engage students in the online context. Teachers who are teaching in an emergency remote environment are faced with the challenge of how to motivate and engage their students without being able to provide them with concrete items that help students be actively involved in the learning process.

Many teachers around the world have turned to emergency remote teaching on virtual or online platforms due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been reported that the online platform is proving to be frustrating and/or boring for K12 students and teachers alike (Dhawan, 2020; Lake, 2020), mostly because the existing curricula were not intended to be taught in an online manner (Hodges et al., 2020). Remote emergency online teaching is not the same as planned online classroom teaching (Hodges et al., 2020), activities are different and student attention span is different. Some children (and adults) can spend hours playing video games in front of a computer but are not able to spend more than an hour or two in front of a remote online classroom. It is pretty obvious why – because the classroom is boring and they are just listening and maybe doing a little talking, whereas video gaming is active, fun, and action-packed time. So how can the monotony of the remote classroom environment be changed, and pedagogical reasoning be used to make teaching decisions in a digital age (Starkey, 2010)? The authors of this chapter believe they have found one solution to increase student and teacher engagement and help make online learning more fun. The suggested learning activities have already been implemented effectively in face-to-face classes, and as the third author has said many times to the first author, “tell me something you do face-to-face and I’ll help you figure out how you can do it online” (personal communication, 2017). In fact, all three of the authors are now, of necessity, experienced at figuring out how to do something online that they typically do in a face-to-face classroom, as are many other teachers who have had to teach online because of COVID-19.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Student Engagement: Mental presence, attentiveness, and enthusiasm of the learner.

Virtual: The simulation of something done in an online, computer-based manner instead of face-to-face (or in person). It is made to appear to exist via the use of software.

Asynchronous: Not happening at the same time. Asynchronous work is work that may be completed at the students’ own pace (though typically subject to due dates). In the context of remote learning (see definition below), asynchronous activities may include watching a pre-recorded lecture; completing online homework.

Online Environment: The use of a computer-based internet learning environment in which a class between teacher and students is taking place. This is used interchangeably with virtual environment in this chapter.

TACTivity: A portmanteau of the words tactile and activity . A TACTivity is a tactile learning activity. For the authors, this means not physical props, but pieces of paper—or electronic equivalents—that may be repositioned, linked, matched, sorted, and so on to answer questions and solve problems embodied within the activity itself.

Virtual Environment: The use of a computer-based internet learning environment in which a class between teacher and students is taking place. This term is used interchangeably with online environment in this chapter.

Synchronous: Happening at the same time. Synchronous remote learning activities might include attending a lecture presented live over the internet; engaging in live online discussions with other students; working together with other students to complete guided learning activities.

Active Learning: Teaching and learning approaches, philosophies, paradigms, and strategies that leverage and cultivate students’ own agency in their acquisition of knowledge and construction of understanding.

Remote Learning: Education that takes place with participants in separate physical spaces. This usually refers to situations where teachers and learners are communicating, sharing, and engaging over the internet.

Manipulative: An object—physical or virtual—that can be moved around, or otherwise engaged with in a tactile manner, a part of a learning exercise or activity.

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