Four times the learning with ICT – forums in science

Author - Roger Broadie,

Scenario - In 2005 as part of a study on learning platform use I visited Kevin Allack, the head of science at Oakbank School in Keighley. In discussing how they were using the learning platform they had installed, Kevin explained that knowing all the pupils could access the platform out of class, he had decided to try a new approach. At the end of a recent lesson he set a forum question for homework. Just in the last couple of minutes of the lesson with no discussion he said “OK – homework; all of you provide an answer to this question in the online forum, “Which has more energy, an iceberg or a kettleful of hot water?”

This resulted in:
- all the pupils put an answer in the forum; none wished to be very visibly seen to have not done the homework.
- the more timid pupils were able to contribute as much as they wished, without the fear of criticism to their face that they felt in class.
- the less able pupils read what the brighter pupils wrote, before devising their own version of the answer they liked best.
- the brighter pupils engaged in some debate about each others’ answers, exploring several threads.
- Kevin was able to see all the pupils’ answers in a single place, so was more easily able to identify the common misconceptions that would have to be corrected next lesson.
- In the next lesson he was able to ‘ground’ the pupils more quickly, as they could each see their own contribution and could remember some of the other contributions they had looked at and thought about.
- And he had accessible some pupils’ answers to lead the debate, that looked at the problem from their viewpoint. Such as the pupil who said “I’d pour the kettleful of water over the iceberg, and if all of the iceberg melted then the kettle has more energy!”.

Previous Approach - Let’s analyse this learning process relative to holding the debate in class, with pupils individually preparing an answer for homework:
- It would have been hard to get all of the pupils to contribute in class.
- the forum approach gave more thinking time, continually stimulated by new postings.
- the debate was multi-threaded instead of pursuing only one thread at a time.
- there was higher order discussion amongst some pupils, which would have been difficult to develop in class while keeping focus on the key principles.
- there were more different approaches to answering the question available to the pupils to consider.
- the teacher saved time in preparation.
- the teacher had higher quality and quantity of responses from the pupils to plan how to approach the discussion next lesson.
- the work could be done by each participant at a time when they were receptive to it.

Some of these things are hard to measure, such as quality of attention - though teachers assess this constantly in class. But even just looking at the total time committed by the pupils to engaging with the question and the higher quality of discussion, we could surely have a headline “Four times the learning with ICT!”.

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