How pre-university online learning experience can influence a successful transition into and through higher education

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1 pamoja education Teaching the IB online How pre-university online learning experience can influence a successful transition into and through higher education A research study published by the Institute of Education for Pamoja Education The Institute of Education (IOE) research study for Pamoja Education explores how pre-university online learning experience can influence students successful transition into and through higher education. The study was completed between February and July It involved a literature review, student selfreport survey, interviews between a researcher and students, and interviews between a researcher and teachers.

2 Literature review The aim of the literature review was to identify recent published research findings about pre-university online learning. This review identified a number of common themes that were then addressed within the student survey and interviews. These themes included: The use of an increased range of web-based technology during learning. The development of self-regulation skills (time management, organisation, independence, and an ability to keep pace) through online learning. The opportunity for intercultural and contemporary communication during online learning. The overall analysis of current published research findings suggests that: Online learning is growing in schools in some countries of the world, but is still seen as rudimentary. Experiences of technology within learning at school help with the transition to university. Proficient technology use and the ability to select appropriate technology is seen as relevant to jobs and wider life. Self-regulation can be developed through the online learning experience. Intercultural communication can be fostered during the online learning experience. The survey research was based on the responses of 108 university students aged between 58 students 17 and 23 from 36 countries (primarily US, UK and India) had studied at least one IBDP online course by Pamoja Education. Student survey and interviews The survey and interviews focused on students currently in higher education who had completed the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP), some of who had completed online IBDP courses. All IBDP online courses are designed and delivered by Pamoja Education, currently the only IB approved online course provider. Several findings from the survey indicate the development of preferences and competencies relevant to university study as a result of online learning prior to university: IBDP online learners surveyed said that, prior to university, they had gained experience in a range of online learning tools that they are now using as part of their university learning. These include Virtual Learning Environments, discussion forums, multimedia revision resources, Google tools, and audio visual tools. Once in university, the IBDP online learners surveyed were less likely than other students to rely on print resources and more likely to research online. This suggests confidence in using available technology to source information. The IBDP online learners surveyed were less likely than other students to turn to their university instructors for help. This suggests that IBDP online learners have already developed the skills to be independent learners. The IBDP online learners surveyed said they use technology less during university than they did at preuniversity level. This reflects the move from studying online (where technology is the primary tool to facilitate learning), to university where technology supports faceto-face learning. It also suggests that universities could do more to promote and support appropriate uses of technology for learning. The IBDP online learners surveyed said they were less likely to value note-taking. This may indicate that they know of and choose to use alternative resources for revisiting and extending upon their learning. IBDP online learners frequently indicated that the pre-university experience of online learning provided rehearsal space, allowing students to develop their approaches to study, including note-taking, information searching, and communicating online (with peers and teachers) before starting university. One respondent said it helped in preparation for university by making me use sites, learning spaces and methods I wasn t familiar with. Another respondent said it helped me to learn how to communicate more effectively through online mediums, including getting through group projects without the benefit of face-to-face meetings. And another respondent said that the experience made them stand out from their peers: Just working online and using different tools such as Prezi is something still not so common.

3 Technology use for university learners Almost all students surveyed thought that technology use was important as preparation for university: There are specific technology skills that many university students require, including finding academic resources online, coordinating group work online, building relationships via social networks, discussing questions with the tutor through webbased technology, and using multimedia resources for both the production of work and for revision. The IBDP online learners surveyed were more likely than the other students surveyed to have experienced a wide range of technologies. Accounts from respondents indicate that technology is central to the way that university students undertake many aspects of their studies, from access to analysis, to writing and production, and on to submission of their work. One respondent said: I have to use it [technology]. All of my homework, classwork and schedule are on it. Respondents indicated that technology use prior to university contributed to their ability at university to be an independent learner, supported their development of time management, and enabled them to become familiar with technologies that other university students would sometimes struggle to use successfully. Independent learning at university Several findings from the survey suggest that university students recognise the importance of being able to learn independently once they start higher education. The students surveyed were asked about the usefulness of different technologies as a means of preparing for university life: Most respondents felt it was important to develop the skills of goal-setting, standards-setting, taking notes, and choosing the right time and place for studying, in preparation for university learning. 84% of all students who responded said it was definitely important to be able to set goals to help manage studying time for their university course. 78% of all students who responded said that at university they try to solve learning problems by themselves. All IBDP online learners surveyed agreed that studying online prior to university had increased their independence as learners. However, one noted that they had found this sense of independence overwhelming at times. One IBDP online learner interviewed said: studying online is different from attending regular classes. You have to be selfmotivated to study on your own and set your own deadlines. Personally, I learned a lot from taking an online course because it helped me prepare myself in terms of scheduling and allocating time to finish each of the subjects that I am currently taking. Another IBDP online learner interviewed said: working with Pamoja, I had to be independent and in charge of my own learning so this has helped me be able to work this way. it helped me to learn how to communicate more effectively through online mediums, including getting through group projects without the benefit of face-to-face meetings.

4 Personally, I learned a lot from taking an online course because it helped me prepare myself in terms of scheduling and allocating time to finish each of the subjects that I am currently taking. Intercultural communication Several interview participants described their IBDP online learning experience as providing a genuinely global online classroom. Students said this global classroom brought benefits: Several said that it helped them to understand a range of cultures and communication styles and that it had introduced them to different perspectives. One participant described how collaborating with other people from different cultures in an online classroom had helped them to develop skills and approaches that had since been valuable in other international projects. Collaboration at university The literature review highlighted the fact that online collaboration is seen as a valuable skill for employability. The students surveyed described several different ways in which they used technology to help collaborate with others as part of their university studies, either during the process of producing work, or by sharing the completed work such as presentations or collected data. One respondent said: I often use Google Docs and other Google tools to collaborate on group projects, including working with teams that are in different locations and time zones. The IBDP online learners surveyed said that online collaboration had helped them to develop their ability to communicate and work with others.

5 Readiness for university The IOE study suggests that online learning helps students prepare for university in two distinct ways through the use of technology and through the development of behaviours. Interview participants described how they developed in terms of their ability to study online, their ability to work with learners from other cultures, and their capacity to direct and manage their own learning. The students surveyed were asked about the benefits of being able to use different technologies prior to university as a route to helping prepare for university life: 94% of respondents said being able to find academic resources on the Internet is valuable. 78% of respondents said it was important to be able to plan and coordinate group tasks using calendars, scheduling tools and discussion applications. 71% said it was useful to build relationships with other learners using social networks. 68% said being able to use Wikis or other online editing tools (such as Google Docs) to create shared materials is valuable. The student survey provided evidence of a shift in orientation between school and university; away from comparison with peers and towards managing personal progress. The IBDP online students who were interviewed all commented that learning to learn online had come with its own set of challenges, but said that developing the skills to learn online within the supported environment of school had been a beneficial experience that was now effectively helping their university study. Participants described how they had developed in terms of their ability to study online, their ability to work with learners from other cultures, and their capacity to direct and manage their own learning. learning how to communicate with students from different cultures is a skill. Most IBDP online students felt that studying an online course prior to university had helped them to develop their ability to use technology, introducing them to a range of tools that they subsequently used (and were expected to use) as part of their online studies.

6 Teacher interviews The teacher interviews focused on the ways that online teachers identify and respond to the challenges faced by learners on their courses. Seven Pamoja Education online teachers were interviewed. The teachers all described significant differences in learning and teaching between the face-to-face classroom and online learning. One teacher said typically in a faceto-face school where discussion forums are dominated by the loudest voices discussion in a classroom can be really quick and fast and often the teacher, you know, tends to take over and dominate that. With the online forums, when they re working well, you know, students have more time, the quiet ones can contribute and get their voice heard and I just know by looking at the forums, some of the best forum contributors wouldn t stand a chance in a face-to-face classroom. This theme of different students flourishing online was raised by several teachers. It was also suggested that schools are all about classes, and the class has a personality, and the individual can get lost in the class personality, whereas in the online classroom, individuals were able to maintain their distinctive style and still receive attention. Teachers as online educators Teachers described their role as being a facilitator in the online classroom; the emphasis being on providing tailored support rather than group management. One teacher who has spent six years teaching online, described the impact of accumulated, collective teacher experience and an evolution from a feeling that it was up to the students to figure out this idea of self-regulation to a point where the online faculty has a common terminology to these skills that we re looking for students to develop, like self-management, communication, research skills, social skills, so that these can be recognised, planned for and supported. The lack of traditional face-to-face communication means that every step of the learning process has to be clearly instructed and scaffolded and all communication thoughtfully and clearly delivered. This considered approach was also recognised as important because of the global nature of the online classroom and the diversity of the students (in terms of country of original, cultural expectations, willingness to ask questions, etc). One teacher said I have students in Ghana, but sometimes it could be in Africa or anywhere else in the world, in rural areas, while other students are in a well developed country. Being respectful, learning how to communicate with students from different cultures is a skill. The teachers described a need to consider and manage students different interpretations of what was expected of them. One teacher said that teachers have to be very, very overt about what we re asking students to do. Part of the challenge for the online teachers was to provide the right level of support and not over-commit, as individual support does not scale well as class sizes grow. This emphasises the difference in approach between Pamoja Education online courses and MOOCs. One teacher said I can t imagine having an online classroom with a hundred students because there s simply not enough time in the day to do the kind of careful evaluation and feedback that is absolutely necessary to make the online environment work. I mean, I know that your students are supposed to take responsibility for their learning and all of that, but if the teacher is not really focused and devoting a lot of time to the feedback process, it s really easy for all but the most dedicated students to get lost. As students progress through the online course, teachers talked about their own change in orientation. By helping students to foster their independence and self-reliance through skillful neglect, teachers were then more able to trust learners to self-manage. It was important to the teachers that this neglect was strategic.

7 they know that they re not out there alone and that they can reach out, ask the teacher questions, get support, move forward and increase in their independence and responsibility, but they re continually supported. So I think that helps with their self-confidence and they just continue to grow. Communication between teachers and students in the online classroom Just as the online students had emphasised, the sense of personal connection between teacher and student was of central importance to online teachers too. Like the students, the teachers felt that teacher feedback (on assessment, and to questions put to them) was an important part of the online learning approach for students. Teachers achieved this through a variety of resources including the learning management system, Skype, YouTube, , the text chat pager tool, responding to blog posts, providing written or audio feedback via Dropbox, or using Google Hangouts. The visual element of Skype was felt to be important and was seen to contribute to the teacher/student relationship in a way that text could not. One teacher said, right from the beginning, I try to talk to my students on Skype, because knowing that there s a person behind a computer makes a big difference. Another teacher said if some student is in a different time zone and it [Skype] doesn t work, I would record myself, or actually video record myself and post it on YouTube and share it with him just to build a relationship. And another teacher said they know that they re not out there alone and that they can reach out, ask the teacher questions, get support, move forward and increase in their independence and responsibility, but they re continually supported. So I think that helps with their self-confidence and they just continue to grow. It was felt by the teachers that providing written feedback demanded more care from both teachers and the students than the verbal feedback often used in the face-to-face classroom. One teacher said, it allows the student to step back and take their time, and I found, in face-to-face classrooms, when the teacher is always there and constantly asking how things are going, that doesn t happen as often. The interesting thing about online learning, it really creates a space for careful thought and reflection so when I have a classroom discussion in a regular classroom, it is instantaneous, but maybe it doesn t get to the depth and reflection that an online classroom can provide, where students can go back and think about what they re saying before actually sending it off. Another teacher said, it s a bit of transition for teachers too, because they have to be much more thoughtful about their comments.

8 Preparing students for university The teachers identified a number of ways in which studying online might contribute to learners readiness for university study. Part of this readiness involves students taking responsibility for their learning choices by selecting to study online in a format that would be unfamiliar to them, and studying with a group and with teachers who may be from unfamiliar cultures and environments. One teacher described the impact of this on the students: I think they become open minded. They learn about different cultures, they learn how to respect others. The teachers also felt that the online pedagogy provided opportunities for students to experience the kinds of learning approaches used at university. One teacher said, we ask them to read, we ask them to respond to questions, we do some construction of mind maps, we have a seminar presentation [through Blackboard Collaborate], and I think that all of those things provide the kind of experience in careful critical thinking that university work demands or should demand. Other skills that prepare students for university study were described, including self-management and making informed choices about learning resources. One teacher said that in the face-to-face environment, students are forced to go to class at a certain time, whereas an online environment, they re being empowered and given more freedom to come to that course and set up their I think they become open minded. They learn about different cultures, they learn how to respect others... schedule to be effective and I think that s probably the biggest adjustment. Another teacher made reference to the automatic deadlines encoded in the online course that could not be re-negotiated: Dropbox closes and the curtain comes down and it s closed and there s no, kind of, oh teacher can you take this. The teachers said that giving learners responsibility for selecting the technologies they would use to communicate, collaborate or present tasks contributed to their independence and self-reliance and so was part of their preparation for university study. The learning process designed by Pamoja Education, supported by the experience of the online teachers, resulted in teachers having several strategies that were attentive to the need for contact, motivation and support, but that also developed the capacity to give students the space to be independent. The teachers suggested that this supportive online environment provided lowrisk challenges, so that students could learn from the experience; making mistakes and developing skills in a safe environment that was preparing them well for subsequent university study and future online learning opportunities. The full IOE report can be downloaded here:

9 PAMOJA EDUCATION Pamoja Education is a social enterprise working in cooperation with the International Baccalaureate to provide online Diploma Programme courses. The online courses, taught by highly qualified and experienced IB teachers, support the IB initiative to increase global access to the Diploma Programme. Pamoja Education is fully accredited by The Schools Commission of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) as a Supplementary Education Program/Center. Profits benefit the McCall MacBain Foundation, supporting health and education. PRESS CONTACT Anne Keeling Media Relations Pamoja Education Phone: Skype: Anne_Keeling

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