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Benefits of e-learning for youth – a teacher’s perspective
Literature review

The aim of this project was to develop instructional strategies and designs for the use of a range of new e-learning technologies, such as online voice tools, blogs and pod-casting as a tool for engagement with NESB youth learners & their teachers in AMES Youth Programs.

This approach was underpinned by the observations from Marc Prensky who suggests that

“all the students we teach have something in their lives that’s really engaging-something that they do and that they are good at, something that has an engaging, creative component to it…..Students certainly don’t have short attention spans for their games, movies, music or internet surfing. More and more, they don’t just tolerate the old ways…. It’s not ‘relevance’ that’s lacking for this generation, it is engagement.” (M. Prensky, EDUCAUSE review, September/October 2005).

As indicated previously, digital storytelling as a strategy for engagement was the main focus of the work conducted by the teacher across the four sites. As the teacher profiles and feedback indicate, in many cases the teachers also engaged with this particular methodology, and they could see real and immediate benefits. The majority of the teachers could be described as digital immigrants – a term coined by Marc Prensky to describe users that did not grow up with technology, as opposed to youth who are, in the main, digital natives. According to Wikipedia:

“A digital native is a person who has grown up with digital technology such as computers, the Internet, mobile phones and MP3. A digital immigrant is an individual who grew up without digital technology and adopted it later. A digital native might refer to their new "camera"; a digital immigrant might refer to their new "digital camera".

Findings

At the conclusion of the project the teachers participated in a focus group session, and completed a questionnaire. The finding as articulated by the teachers can be categorised as follows:

Ease of Integration of technology into existing curriculum frameworks

Teachers reported that the digital storytelling methodology was easily incorporated into their thematic approach to delivery. It worked very well within particular learning outcomes that are covered in the CSWE, such as writing a recount, speaking a recount - and specifically getting students to focus on pacing, pronunciation and intonation.

The teachers actively included the students in the planning of their learning, and they responded very positively to the brainstorming and research activities of their story production.

Teachers did report, though, that it was important to separate writing skills and computer skills at the lower levels. Students need to spend some considerable time in the language classroom to learn to write recounts before they are asked to apply these skills in the computer room.

Fostering an ICT enabled language learning culture within the group

Teachers reported very positive gains in motivation, specifically motivation to write in English. The students seemed more motivated to work in teams and showed great pride in seeing their names on screen, as well as hearing their own voices. This led them into a new world of e- learning experiences culminating in them creating their own digital stories (incorporating voice tools, capture, production and manipulation of digital images, and scanning). The experience was positive, fun and gave recognition and credibility to their existing knowledge and expertise in using some of these technologies. As one teacher described it: “the feeling of accomplishment was amazing”.

Project based peer support

There was a considerable amount of peer support and teaching occurring amongst the students. Teachers grouped the students so that there was a range of skills and abilities in each group. In addition, the fact that they were able to walk away with finished stories that they could show to their parents, relatives and peers created a lot of pride and feeling of accomplishment in the participants.

Growth in personal development skills

Teachers reported significant increase in student commitment, their willingness to take responsibility for their learning and in seeing the project through to the end. These gains could be recorded against the development of generic (employability) skills outcomes in their course. It also provided students with opportunities to engage with the wider community in producing and promoting the stories.

Pathways

Both teachers and students found that it was possible for them to explore and exploit other funding opportunities as a result of the skills, knowledge and confidence gained in this project. Students felt comfortable enough with their own skills to take on more complex projects.

Challenges

The teachers found the following areas relating to the management of the teaching and learning environment a challenge:

  • open enrolments - the teachers overcame problems with students having missed crucial lessons by encouraging more able students to mentor each other. This worked well and the students enjoyed the experience.
  • challenges of working with less literate students when writing the stories – using a thematic approach with group work focussing on particular topics worked well here.
  • managing the disparity across literacy and computer skills is an ongoing problem - involving the more capable students and colleagues were strategies that worked well.
  • one teacher reported on challenges in working with students with intellectual disabilities. One student was keen but worried about the fact that he could not remember his words/ lines. The teacher ended up helping him by whispering the words to him. His obvious delight in seeing the final products made it very worthwhile.
  • Self paced tutorials - when asked what they would do differently, teachers reported that they would like a set of very detailed instructions ready for more able students to allow them to continue at their own pace.
  • teachers also reported that they would spend more time on the writing / speaking skills necessary in preparing the students before starting the production stages of the project.

Prensky, M. 2001. Digital natives, digital immigrants. Online http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky%20-%20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf 

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