Teaching and learning has gone through an extensive change that has influenced the methods of education and learning that we see today. The industrial age of education suggested that the world was made up of discrete components that fitted together like the parts of a machine (Senge, Cambron-McCabe, Lucas, Smith, Dutton, & Kleiner, 2012). In this age, schools were run like a ‘factory assembly line’ where repetition and control were the key factors. With new thinking and lots of debate, the industrial era gave way to the knowledge age that suggested that Earth be accepted as a single highly interactive and connected system, pulsing with the creative energy of the universe (Beare, 2006). In the knowledge age schools were concerned with human affairs and educators guided people on how to be effective life managers, effective contributors to society and the environment and effective participants in an increasingly competitive workforce (Whitby, 2007). We are now at the start of the technological era of education where schools link repetitive and creative learning using technological tools to give substances and real life examples so that people can become lifelong learners. The technological era of education is concerned with blended learning and guides learners through knowledge acquisition using networked and global learning. Blended leaning has many meanings and is dependent on the context. However, in general, it combines or mixes modes of web-based technology e.g., the live virtual classroom, self-paced instruction, collaborative learning, streaming video, audio, and text and various pedagogical approaches e.g., constructivism, behaviorism and cognitivism to accomplish an educational goal and optimal learning outcomes (Driscoll, 2002). Blended learning is interactive and because of technological advances and the use of personalised tools it can be accessed at any time. It has lots of advantages, the major one being how it engages students in the use of vast resources that help grow their skill set and knowledge base (Blackboard, 2009).
In all three educational era’s, students have found it hard to write academic reports that show their knowledge and clearly describe their ideas. In the writer’s opinion this is a major educational problem that has not been dealt with well or solved previously but can be addressed in the technological era through participation in blended learning, disguised as Networked and Global Education.
This essay will outline how academic report writing is a problem for high school students today, it will scrutinise research questions related to network and global learning (NGL), it will outline a literature review that will show the importance of NGL and how it can aid students in writing academic reports correctly and finally it will provide a solution in terms of an intervention to the problem previously mentioned i.e. academic report writing.
2. Statement of the problem
High school students come across fictional and creative writing every day, be it in text books, magazines or novels. The purpose of creative writing is to communicate metaphorically, generate images and emotions or to entertain (Johnson, 2003). These days most jobs require people to write factual formal reports or plans that clearly detail ideas that are well researched, constructed and are easy to put into practice. These reports are required to be written using a specific academic structure. Academic writing is very different from that which high school students regularly come across – it is formal, seldom contains dialogue, uses specific structures and is purposefully objective (Johnson, 2003). It is the duty of an educator to expose high school students to academic texts and to ensure that students know how to write academic reports so that they can communicate their ideas effectively in the workplace, be respected for their clear concise explanations and be remembered for strong effective plans that are easy to set up and use.
Academic report writing is required in a variety of school subjects – Extended Experimental report writing in Science, Technical report writing in Technology, Fieldwork report writing in Humanities and Financial report writing in Business (to name just a few), thus learning how to master academic writing is very important. In the writer’s experience most high school students know the basics of academic writing and can produce an academic report to some extent; however, sometimes students struggle with communicating their ideas clearly and have difficulty in referencing academic papers and journals accurately.
This design based research proposal aims to use Networked and Global learning to enhance academic report writing among high school students.
3. Research questions
3.1 Main question
How can a student’s ability concerning academic report writing be enhanced through participation in groups, networks and sets?
3.2 Sub questions
- How can writing and reading blogs develop academic report writing skills in high school students?
- What networks and sets are appropriate and could help with the development of academic report writing skills among high school students?
- How can the use of software available on the World Wide Web develop academic report writing skills?
4. Literature review
A major problem that high school students have when writing academic reports is expressing the main point of the report clearly and concisely so that it is easily understood and comprehended by the reader. Participation in reading and writing can help overcome this problem. Anyone can write well and like anything else, you can become a better writer by practicing (Johnson, 2013). Today’s technological world leads us to the World Wide Web which contains lots of devices that can help high school students practice their English written work, as well as assisting them in how they can express their ideas. A search for academic reading and writing on the network ‘Facebook’ reveals lots of educational pages that support a discussion of academic reading and writing. These pages also provide the reader with links to other sites that contribute to successful academic writing and skill building. The network ‘Edmodo’ is an educational network that engages students in academic discussion and allows them, teachers and parents to collaborate in an easy and safe way (Holland & Muilenburg, 2011). Another fantastic resource that technology provides students with these days is the formation of groups and connections via online educational blogs. If students participate in and write blogs online, not only will their grammar and standard of writing improve, but other participants who are connected to the blog can easily make comments on the writing, their understanding of the specific topic and offer knowledge to help develop the idea or ideas of the writer. Blogs are the perfect platform to help students to explore ideas, make new friends, challenge one another’s interpretations and place obligations of cooperation and support upon one another (Anderson & Dron, 2014). Blogs together with Wikis are “powerful digital tool for knowledge development because they facilitate formal, topic-centric, collaborative, personal and/or depersonalized interaction” (Warschauer & Grimes 2007) in which each writer can further contribute and work through initial thoughts and ideas. Students learn by doing and experiencing. A person cannot experience everything but can connect to others (through blogging) that have experienced the knowledge needed thus increasing their own knowledge and learning how to develop and make it clear so that the reader will understand (Siemens, 2014). The research from Holland & Muilenburg, Anderson & Dron, Warschauer & Grimes and Siemens suggests that connecting to people, places and information is the key to learning. Thus, in the writer’s opinion, participation in network and group (blogs) collaboration can lead to successful idea expression and scrutiny which is the first step towards completing a balanced academic report.
Another issue that high school students struggle with when writing academic reports is structure. How should a report be written? What language (formal or informal) is appropriate and how can paragraphs be linked? The set Pinterest is a pinboard-style social photo-sharing website, which enables individuals to collect images that interest them (Hansen, Nowlan & Winter, 2012). If used correctly Pinterest can help an individual find and organise resources, plan essays and reports and follow individuals that have similar interests. A search on Pinterest entitled ‘academic writing’ brings up numerous resources e.g. characteristics of academic style – “Characteristics of academic writing”, that may help with report and formal essay writing styles. A more refined search entitled ‘Academic writing structure’ results in more precise information about essay, report and dissertation style writing. This set enables high school students to gain ideas on how academic reports should be set out as well as giving student’s visual “q’s” on knowledge and report writing. Students should be encouraged to use this and other sets to gather and organise information.
High school educators see a lot of plagiarism in student report writing these days, when compared to twenty years ago. This is because information is readily available in electronic forms on the World Wide Web and students just copy and paste it onto their reports/assignments (Cromwell, 2006). While some students blatantly plagiarise some do it without knowing .i.e. quote or reference incorrectly. As educators it is our duty to help these students and teach them how to reference correctly. There are several reference management tools available to buy or download, to assist students with referencing, plagiarism and citation management. Typical functions of reference management software include: importing references from a variety of sources like bibliographic databases; searching, editing, sorting and sharing references; rendering references in a variety of formats; selecting references to incorporate in a word-processed document and formatting them automatically; storing links to documents or copies of them within a database (Jose & Jayakanth, 2008). A search on the internet reveals many easy to use reference tools that are both student and teacher friendly. Examples include BibDesk, BibMe, CiteULike, EndNote, Mendeley and Zotero. All of the above examples are useful when referencing academic papers and journals but in the writer’s opinion the most popular and easy to use reference management software tool is Mendeley. High school students will benefit from using Mendeley as it not only manages referencing and citation for students, but it also can connect them to researchers locally and worldwide (Zaugg, West, Tateishi & Randall, 2011), thus letting students participate in connectivism and collaborative work which can help them expand on and explain their report ideas in more detail.
Turnitin is a plagiarism detection service that could be very useful to high school students when writing academic reports. It helps students reflect critically on their ideas within a report and details the originality of the students’ academic writing. It helps students realise that they cannot plagiarise someone else’s work and makes them take note of where citation and referencing is needed (Turnitin tour, 2006). Turitin is an invaluable software tool that should be used to guide high school students on plagiarism within their academic report writing.
Overall, it can be concluded that participating in NGL can help high school students be successful when writing academic reports. With this knowledge a successful school implementation to improve academic report writing can be implemented.
- The Proposed intervention and a plan for putting it into place
The proposed intervention is to set up a once per cycle (the writers school works on a two week time table called a cycle) lesson for year ten students where the teacher and students participate in connectivism and research via groups, networks and sets to analyse their report writing and develop academic writing skills that will help them to write successful formal reports. Students from year ten were picked because they already have experience in writing reports and therefor know the basics of academic writing. They would also be writing a lot of formal reports in their senior years that will be worth marks towards their senior certificate. A specific specialised teacher that has experience in academic reading, writing and research (perhaps the teacher librarian) would lead the lesson which would take the format of a “hands on” four part lesson where (1) the students and teacher would engage in a group question and answer session (this session may also contain basic information and/or points to note on academic writing delivered by the teacher), (2) the students would participate in blog reading and writing on the topic of academic writing, (3) the students would research a specific topic, related to an academic report they are currently doing, using networks and sets and (4) the students would engage with reference and plagiarism management systems to correctly format their report reference and/or learn how to reference correctly. Each part of the lesson would be completed within fifteen minutes where possible. This lesson would connect students to information and experts who would be able to help them develop their academic report writing skills.
5.1 Question and answer session
The teacher would open the lesson by assessing with the students what they already know and what they want to know about academic writing. These discussions would also give students ideas on what resources they could use to increase their skill base on academic writing. The teacher would answer specific student questions to the best of his/her ability and keep a record (digital brainstorm/notes) of what was discussed. If necessary the teacher would go through the notes recorded in previous lessons, or information PowerPoints and interactive resources that would assist the students in thinking and writing in an academic/formal way. Theses PowerPoints and interactive resources would be stored on the school’s learning management system – Moodle and be available for students to access at any time. This section of the plan would ensure that students consolidate their basic knowledge of academic writing by answering their questions and eliminating their fears of how to write academically e.g. how to structure an academic reports etc.
5.2 Academic blogging
Students would participate in a class review writing blog using a Campuspress blog platform. Students within the class would be encouraged to write regular blogs (once a fortnight) about what they are learning, how they approach academic writing and their ideas for school reports. This would be an enclosed school group at the start, with the possibility of connecting with other schools who would be running a similar program in the future. Students would be able to view and comment on each other’s posts; however, all blogs and posts would be monitored by the teacher for appropriate ideas and language. The teacher would respond to questions and queries on blogs as well as starting whole group discussions on specific academic problems, approaches and resources. Every blog written would be stored, enabling current students to read blogs from past participants. This part of the plan would encourage an improvement in students writing skills, provide students with valuable support and feedback on their current ideas and written work and help students to look at their ideas from other perspectives.
5.3 Research using networks and sets
Under the guidance of the teacher and a teacher aide the students would be asked to research for information using networks and sets such as Facebook, Edmodo and Pinterest. To start with the teacher would provide the students with a specific topic to research for and then guide them on how to search correctly and what information to use from research results. Once students start being assigned academic reports to do from other subjects, they would be allowed to search networks and sets using their own specific topic or idea. They would be able to organise their ideas and research into easy to read formats, so that they could share and get opinions on them via their blog and the class question and answer session. By using networks and sets like this in the classroom, students would be able to connect to peers and experts from around the world. They could share resources, and discuss relevant topics (Dron & Anderson, 2014). Like blogs, networks and sets allow different perspectives to be discussed, helping students in turn to see things differently, which is particularly important for student-centred learning (Dron & Anderson, 2014).
5.4 Reference and plagiarism management systems
Students would be taught how to use both Mendeley and Turnitin and once they know how to use them they would be able to engage with them to organise their ideas, references and the management of plagiarism. Under the teacher’s supervision students would use Mendeley to find similar research articles around the topic of the report being written. This search would also allow students to identify colleagues and experts for potential collaboration to help them with clarification and the understanding of ideas. Students would also use Mendeley to quote within a report correctly and create a reference list that is worthy of an academic report. Under the teacher’s supervision the students would use turnitin on their written academic reports to check for incorrect referencing and plagiarism. They would be asked to check their reports regularly and keep them on or above a level of 95% originality. Turnitin will help students to use their own work and thinking to develop their ideas and academic writing.
Overall, this intervention would be successful in improving high school students’ academic report writing skills. It would do this by introducing students to blended learning via participation in groups (blogging, question and answer session), networks (Facebook and Edmodo) and sets (Pinterest), developing their English conversation skills, knowledge about referencing and plagiarism and by connecting them to peers and experts who would be critical and reflective about ideas and knowledge development. This intervention will raise the level of academic report writing in the school, resulting in school leavers being successful and efficient in formal report writing and plan development in the workplace.
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