Figure 4: General Shape and Structure of a Mind Map for a Subject
Figure 6: A typical Learning Curve
At the early stages of a learner's learning curve, he/she might lose confidence, focus, engagement, interactivity and motivation, if it takes longer than what he/she expected to take before some learning takes place. However once learners have passed this initial stage, they often behave quite differently and do rely on their own initiatives to explore further into the issue at hand and make complementary acquisition of information. They may also, depending on their learning experience and ability, become engaged in the natural process of deduction, abstraction and generalization.
There aren't any conclusive research results showing how the learning curve of a person can be formulated or what relationship there is between learners' learning attention span and their learning curve. In the creation of Animated Teaching lessons I have used my own experience in dealing with different age groups. In my view the average and realistic uninterrupted learning attention span for an average learner in a classroom environment depending on the subject and teaching ability of the educator for various ages is less than 10 minutes. I believe that if a learner experiences an achievement in this short interval, they remain engaged with learning for longer and their confidence will grow exponentially.
By uninterrupted learning attention span I am referring to an interval when a one-way channel of information is established between the educator and the learner. This is the interval when the educator has to try and pass on the full message. In the world of digital information, where the average learner spends hours watching colorful images on the TV, computer games and information superhighway the internet, the average learner's attention span in increasingly shortening.
Considering the facts of decreasing attention span, the practical Pareto's principle and the learners' learning curve, in Animated Teaching I work on the general rule of having 80% of the message delivered in 20% of the possible attention span. This means that Animated Teaching pages are designed to deliver their messages in about 2 minutes. Hence while designing the mind map for a subject, a great deal of attention needs to be paid to the breakdown of sections and topics and the restriction of 2 minutes message delivery time for each topic.
What has been described so far in my view is a practical framework for the design and development of successful on-line teaching material. However I believe in integration of face-to-face teaching and learning methods with on-line approaches, which are often referred to as Blended Learning. To plan for effective blended learning, it is important that educators focus on what learners do in order to learn (learning activities) 13 . Figures 1, 2 and 3 show that on each Animated Teaching page there are a number of activities or examples for learners to do to prove their accomplishment of a topic. The design of activities for an Animated Teaching page is such that the first few rely fully on learners' understanding of the topic of that page, but others may relate to other topics in the map which have been learnt before then. Using these activities an educator can measure learners' success and conduct the timing of teaching sessions accordingly.
At City of Sunderland College, I have used Animated Teaching material with two groups of students: one learning the concepts of programming and the other mathematics. Animated teaching was the main source of information during every lesson for both groups. In the classroom, I primarily acted as the facilitator and conductor of the on-line Animated Teaching material. To do so I used an overhead projector and a reasonable sound system.
To teach a new topic, once I prepared the students and gathered their attentions, I played the animations on the Teaching page for that topic. Sometimes animations had to be played more than once, but very rarely more than twice. The students were then directed to do the activities on that page. While doing the activities, they were encouraged to, if needed, listen and watch the animations again using headphones at their own workstation. This was the time when I could walk around and evaluate their understanding by asking them questions, assessing their completed activities, look out for signs of stress in their body language and assisting those who needed extra help.
Such a radical change from the traditional approach aroused many of my students' curiosity. They hadn't seen anything like it before. Initially they viewed this duo teaching effort by their lecturer and his digital double as quite amazing. The two were so harmonized. As one finished his introductory speech, the other delivered a short but subject related teaching message, which was accompanied by very carefully planned animation. The sound and animation worked together to attract the students' attention to the appropriate points at the appropriate times. In traditional lecturing mode, to assist the flow of thoughts, we often use pointing, circling, arcing etc, but nothing as precisely timed and adequate like what could be achieved with computer animation.
Imaginative animations and accompanying audio not only added the extra stimulating flavor to our class, but also assured accurate and complete delivery of the important messages every time all the time. Many of students remained completely focused and attentive throughout the time when the Animated Teachings were playing. Majority of students appreciated the simplicity and the ease of delivered teaching messages, but certainly everyone felt confident with this style of blended e-learning since the used material during the lesson, which were indeed the main bulk of the teaching, were also available via the internet. This greatly improved students' reflective learning.
Hence I believe that in a blended learning, the Animated Teaching material should be the main stream of the classroom teaching. Educators' ability to interact and their subject knowledge and teaching experience play the essential roles of conductor of the media, motivator of students, observer of students' progress and evaluator of students' achievement. This blended approach ensures that once a lesson has been delivered in the classroom, then the same source can be used again for reflective learning and revision. I also believe that this approach provides the best support for those who were absent or require more repetition before they are confident of their learning.
The logged hits that Animated Teaching pages received showed that on average every student had visited the pages 2.3 times a week. 83% of logged visits were made less than 3 days after a lecture. 12.5% of visits were registered at very late times at night or very early times in the morning. Increase in regularity of visits were often noticed when students were asked to do an activity and submit it for marking or revise for a test.
Those students who were using Animated Teaching material on programming concepts, had to do a total of 17 submitted activities before they would be given their final assignment. This inspired their competitive nature immensely and to my surprise there was a race to have all 17 activities finished. Four students from this group who had done some programming before and had better understanding of the concepts of programming raced ahead of the rest of the class relying mainly on the Animated Teaching material.
The Mathematics students with the exception of one were of very low mathematical proficiency. They were level zero students studying a BA course in business and information technology. The shortage of time and the magnitude of students' missed or lost basic mathematical skills meant that they had to rely on the provide Animated Teaching a lot more than the other group. Their logged usage of Animated Teaching pages showed that the regularity of visits from these students was 5.7 times per person per week.
However level of usage was still directly related to the number of tasks they were given and there was a sudden increase just before the hand in date of a task or taking an exam. One student in this class had a higher entry knowledge level. She also finished all activities before everyone else and managed to do many more practice exam papers than other students before the date of exam.
Table 1: Results from a Questionnaire
Table 1 shows the collective views of students regarding the Animated Teaching and the way that they had experienced it this year. This data was gathered via a questionnaire, which was filled and returned by 29 students out of the total of 32 students. On this table you see the questions that students were asked. You also see the average of the marks given by the students to each question. For the purpose of this questionnaire, zero (0) was the lowest and the worst mark and ten (10) the maximum and the best mark.
As it is shown in Table 1, the first set of five questions aimed to seek out the students' calculated responses whereas the second set of five questions aimed to capture their feeling and their experience of using the Animated Teaching material. On the whole the result of this questionnaire showed that the students had been inspired by this blended teaching method and had gained an improvement in their learning experience. Average marks of 5 or less for the first five questions were assumed to indicate that the new method had no impact on them and had not inspired them at all. Average marks of 5 or less for the second set of five questions were assumed to indicate no improvement in their learning experience.
The results shown in Table 1 were confirmed on various other occasions and via other methods. Students confirmed their views in their class committee meetings, which have the Head of Department and/or Course Leader as participants and take place on regular basis. They also confirmed their views in person during the lesson, in written format as e-mails, in the ?extra comments' section of the questionnaires, in the review section of the Animated Teaching pages and to their course tutors.
Some of their comments received in written format or reported to the Head of Department are as follows;
?It has helped me a great deal, especially good to use when I haven't fully understood everything in class and was invaluable when I was revising?
?I think it would be helpful if we had it (animate-teaching) in our other modules such as computer systems.?
?You can go over something as many times as required until it sinks in. I have found animated-teaching very straight to the point. It looks like blackboard, chalk and someone talking at you.?
?especially useful for me as a night-school student when outside pressure has stopped me from attending.?
?I find the tool very useful at home and in class. I find the tool very comprehensive and enjoyable.?
?It is a permanent source of research material, one which I could safely say I would have struggled to understand some aspects of the course without it.?
?Really helpful guide, especially when learning a technical subject like C++! In fact I would like to see more units on there.?
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?It gives easy to understand diagrams and takes you step by step through them. It is far easier to use and understand than regular textbook.?
?because you can see how certain things are done and how they work in reality, which is easier to grasp than paper with lots text which does not always get read.?
?It is effective at getting the major points across to me and I understand programming very well.?
?It is a useful tool for doing homework at home. It is easy to find and helps if there is part of my homework that I don't understand.?
Figure 7 : Contributing Factors or Sources of Diversity in a Classroom