Student Responses to a Digital Textbook Continued – Connect Charter School

Student Responses to a Digital Textbook Continued

-by Dave Scott, Grade 8 Humanities
This post is part of a four-part series exploring the curricular potential of digital textbooks or what I am calling “Integrated Inquiry Resources.” Read the first blog here for an introduction to the ideas that informed this project as well as the inquiry resource itself. And then a second blog for an outline of the inquiry tasks imbedded in the resource and accompanying student work.
This blog post is a continuation of a previous blog post that reports on findings from an anonymous student survey which sought to document the impact of a specific integrated digital inquiry resource on levels of student engagement and learning.
Of a total 50 students, 44 responded to the survey.
In the previous post I outlined some of the more positive responses to this inquiry resource. However, not all student responses were positive. Unlike the cheery picture here, some of the students comments point to a need to seriously reconsider both the organization and design of the resource along with the curricular model (why we teach a subject) and the pedagogical strategies (approaches to instruction) adopted within my digital textbook. What follows are findings associated with the questions in bold.
Finding 4: The clamation rendering of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave was only moderately successful in bringing students into the world of Greek ideas and the rebirth of this learning during the Renaissance. As can be seen below, about 40% believed this was so and about an equal percent thought that these video links did this only moderately well. Notably about 18% felt that this animation failed in this regard.
DownloadCreate Chart7. The Plato Allegory of the Cave inquiry question was trying to bring you into the world of Greek ideas. To what extent did this question make you think deeply about the rebirth of Greek learning during the Renaissance?
answered question 44

skipped question
Response Percent Response Count
Extremely well
11.4% 5
Very well
29.5% 13
40.9% 18
11.4% 5
Not at all
6.8% 3
Did this resource help make the study of the Renaissance more interesting and engaging for students?
Finding 5: Although the resource did help make the topic more engaging for students, especially among students in one class, there was a significant number of students who found some of the sections of this digital textbook and by extension learning in the classroom not very engaging. From the advantage point of someone who put so much work into creating this resource, this was a disappointing finding. However, as I will explore at the end there was some design flaws in how I went about creating the unit. Based on the survey here are a sampling of some of the student responses to the question.
With a focus on the video links, as can be seen below over 60% of students felt the resource made the study of the Renaissance more interesting.
5. Compared to a normal textbook, did you find the video links brought to life European history in way that was more interesting to you as a student?
answered question 42

skipped question
Response Percent Response Count
35.7% 15
Very much so
26.2% 11
14.3% 6
Not really
14.3% 6
Not at all
9.5% 4
A sampling from the focus group and survey responses confirm this:

Finding 6a and 6b: Responses from both the survey and focus group sessions point to some structural problems with how this digital textbook, and by extension the overall inquiry unit in general, was designed. Here are a sampling of some of the responses that point to the limitations of this resource. I have grouped the responses in relation to limitations of: the design of the layout, the pedagogical strategies used to support this resource, along with the inquiry tasks themselves.
6a) Issues with the design and layout of this inquiry resource:
The points here were well taken, although Shashi Shergill helped me with some editing at the end to make my writing more grade 8 friendly, having created the resource almost completely on my own it was very text heavy as I did not have the time to create a magazine style layout. One of the things I hope digital textbooks will embrace are elements of design and stop trying to hit kids with reams of information. In this regard, links to sources behind the text can make the textual elements needed, less apparent. Despite the links to videos there was an absence of pictures or other design elements that would make the pages appealing to a reader.
The most prominent limitation to my digital textbook, as articulated in a focus group session was a lack of more interactive links within the resource. Although I had links to rubrics, maps, some sites showing the spread of the Black Death, and a very interesting site showing the different routes along the Silk Road, there was an absence of a number of elements I initially wanted to include. As this students suggests there were few interactive diagrams or sites, such as a web quest. I wanted to include Khan Academy style tutorials as well, but simply ran out of time to create this. As I will explore in the end, this points to a need for a more collective effort to create a resource like this. Moreover, it provides an opportunity for the resource itself to become a student project where students become knowledge creators rather than knowledge consumers.
6b Issues with the inquiry tasks along with the pedagogical strategies used to support this resource:
Here we see a number of limitations with this resource including the length of the unit and a lack of creative projects associated with the inquiry tasks. I think these comments raise two important insights that should inform any future digital textbooks. The first of these is length. After having done the Renaissance for three years now, I have launched some epic inquiry units around this topic. However, I now understand that longer is rarely better. The inquiry units students seem to most enjoy either run parallel to another unit, so they have some variety in what they are doing, or they are very short, focussed, and concise. I see now that some of the tasks were perceived as redundant and going over the same thing.
However, the most important point raised by these findings concerns the inquiry tasks themselves. All of the tasks, including preparation for the debate speech were very writing heavy and perhaps not as creative as they should have been. Students were largely representing understandings already found somewhere else, even the task on historical significance, although requiring a reasoned judgment, did not require a lot of creative thinking. Moreover, there was no authentic audience for students to present their work. Here, I think my problem was I dragged many elements of the old model of education into this new digital medium. Without opportunities for students to draw on their creative and imaginative capacities to create new knowledge and represent their findings in creative ways, the findings here point to the need to create digital resources that supports aspirations for a more creative and interactive forms of education, rather than positioning students as passive recipients of already settled knowledge.

1 comment

  1. Dave, I appreciate how you have involved your students in a process of openly and frankly sharing feedback through the survey and focus groups relating to their learning experiences with the Integrated Inquiry Resources you have developed. You do a great job of providing a balanced interpretation of the findings and identifying design issues which you will address. You offer some significant insights relating to collaborating with colleagues in developing resources and making provision for students to become knowledge creators rather than knowledge consumers. I found your blog to be very informative and thought-provoking. Garry McKinnon

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