Balancing the demands of in-school placement with out-of-school study

Grant type: Developing Pedagogy and Practice 2010/11
Round: Pedagogy and Practice Jan 2011
Amount awarded £5,000.00
Completed: January 2012
Leader(s): Dr Debbie Holley
Organisation: Anglia Ruskin University
Contact Email: debbie.holley@anglia.ac.uk
Partners:
Claire Bradley
Faculty of Education, London Metropolitan University
Start Date: 1 March 2011
End Date: 31 December 2011
Interim report received: 24 August 2011
Final report received: 14 December 2011

Our project aims to explore the affordances of mobile technologies by supporting students writing their postgraduate projects when they are in a placement setting. It will:

  1. Capture the stages in student writing over their placement by the use of filmed individual research diaries (via flip cams).
  2. Scaffold student critical thinking by having four 24 hour ‘key intervention points’ where students and staff will have a critical text dialogue tutor-student; student to student peer groups; student to tutor. Facilitated by using txttools (www.txttools.co.uk), students will use their own mobile phones
  3. We will capture previously ‘invisible’ aspects of our students’ lives outside the classroom.
  4. By analysis of the video diaries and focus group interviews we will identify a framework for key interventions that will provide staff supporting students in other contexts with insights into the key ‘tipping point interventions’ that make a difference to the student experience.

Research Question: What key intervention points are important for students on placement to support them with their research assignment and maintain their work/ academic study balance?

Our project seeks to support students when they are away from University. Students typically struggle with the placement/academic work balance and rush their research project at the end of the placement, and have reported disappointment with their grades. They may also struggle with making informed ethical decisions outside the formal classroom, an issue identified by Wishart (2010).

Students also find it difficult to develop the level of academic skills required by the assignments, including research skills and critical review of appropriate literature. There is very limited time to teach these skills as students are mainly out on placement. Key intervention points have been mapped according to the students’ school experience and academic preparation for project experience, and we plan to post key readings onto the course VLE, and engage the students via txttools, a medium for both sending and receiving SMS messages. These key readings and supported ‘chat via text’ will focus on very short bursts of information over a 24 hour period, and aimed to support student writing over the period. Thus the students will have the opportunity for critical engagement with their peers and tutors at key points on their placement experience and scaffold the preparation of their academic work.

It is now accepted that mobile devices have a number of important characteristics which make them attractive from an educational perspective, including increasing portability, functionality, multimedia convergence, ubiquity, personal ownership, social interactivity, context sensitivity, location awareness, connectivity and personalisation (Pachler et al, 2010). A mobile phone pilot ‘texting’ students study tips indicated that all students own their own mobile phones of varying sophistication. Student feedback indicates they are keen to use mobiles for studying (Bradley & Holley, 2010). In the education field, Wishart (2009) carried out research with trainee teachers and PDAs to facilitate better communication with trainees. This project has some similarities and they found that:

  1. Trainees used it as a personal device rather than being willing to work as a community of practice.
  2. Trainees did not feel the same need to keep in touch with their University tutors once they had established good links with their school-based mentors.

The rationale behind their project was similar to our project in that they wanted to offer support to students to prevent isolation and were aware that trainee teachers can find it difficult to access school PCs whilst on placements. Since this research was carried out most trainees either have smart phones or a laptop allocated to them by the school. Therefore their requirements are different to those identified in the Wishart study. Students need support in developing the academic skills needed to produce masters-level assignments and find that their school-based mentors are not able to help them in this area, although they are very supportive in relation to helping them develop their professional teaching skills. This work takes forward the exploration of the students ‘at a distance’ by combining the affordances of mobile devices with capturing the individual experience. This will offer insights into the thoughts and feelings of the students whilst ‘in-situ’. The resulting analysis will offer a framework for interested academics to develop for their specific contexts.