Dr Massoud Hajsadr (elesson.co.uk)
In class, BAT requires an overhead projector and a simple sound system. By interacting with students, the conducting lecturer prepares the students, then plays the animated lessons and assesses students' understanding via a range of online activities or exercises.
Online availability of BAT, which has been used as the backbone of our blended teaching pedagogy, provided our learners with extra flexibility, better class interaction, attractive teaching material, learning continuity, resource standardization and full time alternative support and hence helped us deal with differentiation more efficiently and increase learner engagement.
In this document, the concept and makeup of BAT are described, the rationale behind its design and development is explained, its classroom deployment is attested and findings are reported.
What is Blended Animated Teaching?
In a study about learners' experience from blended approaches, their success was suggested to depend on the selection and organization of resources and the way they are integrated into classroom teaching (Higgins 2003). The degree of integration determines how effectively blended resources are used and in turn their rate of return on investment.
BAT is a web based teaching resource that with its teaching pedagogy renders the greatest possible resource integration into classroom teaching and activities. It contains a number of web pages, each of which delivers meaningful wholes which are referred to as teaching objects. This is in accordance to Hilgard's cognitive theory of teaching principles where it is suggested that, in decomposing concepts, the organization of knowledge should be from simplified wholes to more complex wholes (Knowles 1998).
Figure 2: A teaching object showing usage of arrays in a data process.
Figure 2 depicts one of many teaching objects that have been used to teach the subject, ‘Programming' to HND/C students. As it is shown in figure 2, this page contains three separate multimedia animations: one, which is associated to the image of the educator, and the other two, which are associated with images representing the learners.
The educator's animation delivers the main message of this object and the other two animations relate to possible reflected or experienced ‘what if', ‘how' and ‘why' type queries by learners. For example figure 2 contains a ‘what if' query aimed to explain to the learner, what would happen and how data would be processed in an array, if the program was run. It also contains a ‘how' query aimed to show to the learner that on reflection from previous teachings, how the processing of arrays is written in pseudo code.
Diversity is the biggest challenge that educators have to deal with in today's classrooms especially at the higher education level. Contributing factors of diversity stemming from gender, demographic, economic, social, cultural, racial and ethical differences (Lorenman et al 2005, Davis 1999, Gregory 2005, Harvey 2006, Arshad 2006, Fisher College of Business 2006) and disabilities (Chapman et al 2006) are the ones most regularly considered in the literature, but in the development of BAT e-learning provisions and pedagogy we consider diversity at curriculum level and learners' different degree of receptiveness to classroom teaching.
This is demonstrated in figure 3 as ten containers of knowledge, some fuller than others. This diagram specifically represents our HND/C students learning ‘Programming'. Normally about 10% of them nearly meet the minimum required level of curriculum knowledge. Therefore, in order to engage the other 90% of students, the educator will have to cover some of the pre-requisites. For example some students do not understand the concept of variables, a process and even some very basic mathematical and logical issues such as inequality, value assignment, logic AND, logic OR, etc. Hence for greater learner engagement, teaching has to begin from a much lower level than the ‘Start of Curriculum' (Figure 3). This is often not possible due to time limitations.
The efficiency of classroom teaching is further improved by making the same teaching objects available after class via the Internet. Our experience shows that when directed by their lecturer, students do use BAT's e-learning material to revise for a test or to complete an assignment or homework. Students who need more time to practise and take longer to comprehend can use BAT in their own time and at their own pace, knowing that their efforts will improve their classroom performance. This if used tactfully, can motivate and drive students towards fulfilling their potentials.
As explained before, BAT relieves the educator from the task of one-way transmission of chalk and talk teaching, enabling him/her to focus completely on the two-way interaction with learners. This will further improve the efficiency of classroom teaching. While BAT is delivering the teaching messages, the educator can concentrate on identifying signs of learning difficulties by observing the learners. This is virtually impossible in traditional classroom teaching since transmission of knowledge absorbs most of the educator's energy.
Using BAT, weaker students can be encouraged to do a bit more in their own time to catch up or keep up. Students can be allowed to study off campus if that suits their personality, occupational and life style. Students with irregular attendance can be given the chance to keep abreast of class progress. Students with language difficulty and deficiency in basic skills can have more time to reflect back on the lessons afterwards without the need for recording them. Also students with increasingly shorter attention span can benefit from concise teaching messages of BAT teaching objects.
Using BAT, teaching of ‘Programming' was standardised, which meant that this unit could be taught in exactly the same way regardless of the lecturer in charge. Students would always benefit from the same concise, pre-rehearsed and animated teaching objects no matter who provided the extra classroom interaction. In the event of a lecturer being absent, the show could literary go on without much interruption. This also improved utilisation of classroom teaching time.
Blended learning has generally proven to work (Gulc 2006). BAT's web-based teaching objects cumulated around an expertly designed backbone or scheme of work and integrated in every moment of classroom teaching via a specific pedagogy provided the most concise, consistent, continuous and accurate online record of what went on in the classroom and hence provided the best support for learners. This blend (BAT) is created after redesigning the course contents and extending it to include more of the pre-requisites with the intention to improve student engagement. It also standardises on-campus and off-campus learning and is the main focal point of the course as a whole, which allows learners to learn at their own pace. Hence it displays all the attributes of an effective and workable blended learning solution to address diversity at curriculum level.
How is Blended Animated Teaching implemented?
Once the educator is convinced that students are ready, then using online BAT material, an overhead projector and a simple sound system, the animated teaching messages are played, which tells and shows students what the concept is. In the meantime the educator observes learners for signs of struggling and replays and/or explains parts if required.
Finally learners are encouraged to do a number of online activities at a pace that they are comfortable with allowing everyone to become fully engaged. These activities have an incremental design from simple to complex and relate directly to the topic at hand and may involve previously learnt concepts. In the meantime the educator observes helps and assesses learners while moving around in the class.
Since classroom-teaching activities are aimed at helping learners reach Bloom's cognitive objective of ‘Application' as explained before, the design of BAT's activities is important. Should the educator not be convinced that this cognitive objective has been reached during class time, students may be encouraged to complete more exercises as homework, revise the concept(s) for a test and/or various other directed, challenging and enticing home activities that will result in students revisiting the concepts prior to following teaching session. For this study all students had to complete fourteen mini-assignments as continuous test of their understanding of concepts and their ability to apply them.
What were the indicators of success?
Logged hits on BAT pages shows that on average every student had visited the relevant 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. 90% of visits lasted longer than 30 minutes. The Increase in regularity of visits were often noticed when students were asked to finish one of the mini-assignments and submit it for marking or revise for a test.
Table 1 shows the collective views of students regarding BAT. On this table you see the questions that students were asked. You also see the average of the marks given by all the students (25 students) to each question on three separate occasions throughout the year. 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 were aimed at seeking out the students' calculated responses whereas the second set were aimed at capturing their feeling and their experience of using BAT. On the whole, the result of this questionnaire shows that students were 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 or very little impact on them. Average marks of 5 or less for the second set were assumed to indicate no or very little improvement in their learning experience.
Table 1: Results from Questionnaires
The average marks in Table 1 indicate that learners have had a very positive experience about BAT resources and pedagogy. This general view has also been reconfirmed by many written testimonials from students, some of which are included below.
“It has helped me a great deal, especially good to use when I haven't fully understood everything in class”
“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.”
“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.”
“You can see how certain things are done and how they work, which is easier to grasp than paper with lots text which does not always get read.”
“… lessons are short and you are straight into doing things. Not a fan of handouts too long and doesn't get read …
“… I really enjoyed programming this year and kept at it. Using elesson I managed to finish my work ahead of the class …”
“… You can easily catch up if you have missed a lesson. I don't like programming but might do software next year …”
“… gets you confident, knowing what is up in next lesson is good. I didn't worry about getting stuck. I managed well in most lessons. Thanks… ”
“I didn't have to wait for others to catch up. You get bored with waiting. I just raced ahead and used class time to sort problems out. Really enjoyable.”
“… The lessons were easy and interesting. The animations are memorable … ”
Two Other lecturers who have experienced using BAT pedagogy in their classrooms have also provided positive testimonials, a snippet of which are included below.
“… Students were more engaged in the classroom and found the approach interesting. The result was extremely positive. This kind of ILT material does suit our students. … ”
“… They were more focused and paid better attention to the lesson. Activities and exercises kept everyone busy. Stronger students finished most of their work in class, but weaker ones could only complete part of it. … ”
Table 2: Comparing Student's Grades for Users and not Users of BAT
In 2004-2005, twenty students out of twenty eight completed the unit. This is 71% success rate. In 2005-2006, twenty five out of thirty students completed the unit. This is 83% success rate. The increase in students' success rate from 71% to 83% may be attributed to BAT pedagogy.
A few weeks into the course, along side of weekly lessons, students began working on 14 mini-assignments. Successful completion of these mini-assignments was proof of their understanding of one or more of the ‘Programming' concepts and their ability to apply them. This way, learners could be differentiated and allowed to progress at their preferred pace. Figure 5 shows students' progress as scattered graphs, each one of which demonstrates the rate that a student was completing his or her mini-assignments. Number 1 on the horizontal axis indicates the week when the first mini-assignment was handed out to the class. The vertical axis indicates number of completed mini-assignments.
Figure 5 : Graphs of completed activity numbers against week numbers
A testimonial from a lecturer teaching Visual Programming on the second year of HND/C has indicated that 2005-2006 students are interestingly more confident and are progressing much faster than previous years so much so that she has had to generate fresh sets of activities and include topics she had normally left out from her teaching. The following comment is from this lecturer.
“…The biggest difference in our students this year is their attitude to programming. They seemed to have overcome their fear of programming and they are more open to accept new challenges and exercises given. I attribute this to your work with them. …”
Preparation of BAT backbone scheme of work and animate teaching objects are very time consuming and require a multidiscipline of knowledge, skills and expertise. This often means development of BAT is slow and expensive.
Tutor-like delivery of BAT sometimes worries the educators that they may find themselves out of a job, but human interaction plays central role in BAT classroom teaching pedagogy. Besides development of BAT material creates new job opportunities for expert educators.
At City of Sunderland College, we are currently considering BAT type resources and pedagogy for teaching Mathematics at various levels. Development of resources for algebra which was declared as the biggest bottleneck in teaching Math to both GCSE and A-level students has already begun and is due to be implemented in academic year 2007-2008.
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