Following on from my posts on the E-learning Development Team blog, I wanted to share my thoughts on my approach to researching the impact of lecture capture provision amongst our students.
There are a number of papers and research projects out there which are looking for experimental evidence to support, or not, the use of lecture capture as an aid to student learning. However, these experimental approaches usually require a quantitative output, such as academic attainment scores or sometimes Likert scale responses to certain factors being measured. I have a problem with the use of attainment scores alone, in that they are subject to a wide variety of factors such as: complexity of the material being learnt, prior knowledge, learning difficulties, learning preferences, cohort effects, and assessment method. This is why I spent such a long time arguing that such outcomes do not really show the impact of a learning intervention in my conference presentation.
Reliability aside, there is a distinct problem with validity of experimental approaches, depending on the researcher’s perception of learning theory. First, there are ethical concerns when you create an experiment with a test group and a control group within the same cohort for teaching and assessment which may impact on the achieved grade and learning of students. In these cases students may be at a distinct advantage or disadvantage through their random allocation to the test or control group. If students opt in to a group, then there are questions about sample bias and preferences that cloud the ability to control to just one experimental factor. Alternative methods may include setting up a dummy learning activity, where no prior knowledge is expected and there is no consequence to students’ formal learning. This would be best described as a ‘laboratory’ experiment.
The laboratory approach is strongly grounded in behaviourist models of learning. Such a model sees the learner as a repository into which learning can be channeled, through positive and negative feedback, repetition and practice, learning is achieved (that’s a really simplistic summary). This model is quite traditional, it does not involve the social dimension of learning (for example social constructivism which involves a group sharing their knowledge, building upon things they know and bringing new meaning through their collective understanding), nor wider contexts such as the link between learning and employment. It is for this reason that experimental trials of learning interventions do not fit with my view of how learning takes place. Laboratory experiments therefore, by their very nature, strip out these social contexts and treat the activity of learning as independent of anything but obtaining new knowledge or skills as an individual.
Considering the nature of learning within a social space, influenced by interactions with fellow students and staff, the access to resources and connections that emerge from different content and contexts, the research that I’m starting to get involved in has to look at students in their own study environments. Without an understanding of learning processes, it would be difficult to understand the impact of a learning intervention within that authentic learning context.