Simulated Virtual Internships: Expanding classroom learning dialogues with voices from enterprise

Twiner, Alison; Major, Louis; Irvan, Ryan and Wegerif, Rupert (2021). Simulated Virtual Internships: Expanding classroom learning dialogues with voices from enterprise. In: European Association for Research on Learning and Instruction Conference, Aug 2021, Online.

URL: https://www.earli.org/EARLI2021

Abstract

This presentation reports on a design research project investigating if simulated virtual internships, including videos prepared by industry partners, can give students access to authentic experiences of workplace practices. The project incorporated a challenge-based learning pedagogy applied to the UK Computing, Design and Technology curriculum, with Year 7 and 8 students (aged 11-13). The 6-7 week projects called for small groups of students to design, model or build a local solution to a global challenge presented via videos from industry directors and engineers in two International Telecommunications companies. We evidence how the project supported development of students’ technical and future skills, including dialogue, collaboration and creative problem solving. We used statistical analysis of student survey data, systematic coding of video-recorded classroom observations and qualitative discourse analysis. Quantitative findings indicate significant change in students’ perceptions of their skills. Links between the language used in the industry videos and the dialogue of the students were found during classroom observations. We discuss the role of communication technologies in bringing in perspectives from outside of the classroom in a way which engaged the students and provided a focus for the dialogues within their groups. We highlight the project's impact on students’ outlook toward personal development, career aspirations, options and readiness. The project has significance for broadening horizons of expectation, where opportunities may otherwise be perceived as limited, thus disrupting the cycle of existing digital, social and geographical divides.

Extended abstract

Aims
Our aim was to explore if and how we could use the simulation of an Internship, supported by resources from industry partners including videos, to give secondary students authentic experiences of workplace practices and challenges whilst also developing future skills such as dialogue, collaboration and creative problem solving. The project takes a challenge-based learning approach (particularly drawing on the work of Apple, 2010) to the UK Computing and Design and Technology curriculum, with Year 7 and 8 students (aged 11-13). The question guiding our research was: How can simulated ‘Virtual Internships’ support secondary school students to engage in dialogic challenge-based learning, and generate authentic insights into the world of work?

Methodology
Students from four secondary schools, located in two English Education Opportunity Areas (defined as traditionally having low social mobility) were involved in this work. Class sizes ranged from 15-30, depending on subject and students’ needs.

For this presentation we offer a case study of an intervention which took a design-based research approach. We used digital technologies to present global challenges (such as digital divides or climate change) framed by videos of senior management in global organisations asking students to help them solve problems and design new products, with support from videos of engineers in those organisations describing their design process. Students worked in small groups over 6-7 weeks to design, model or build a local solution to the specific global challenge. The design of the programme, initially involving classroom-based group work, was such that opportunities were offered to students and schools who had varying levels of local access to equipment and enterprises.

We worked closely with teachers in each school to design simulated Virtual Internship experiences and to observe and evaluate their impact with a view to developing further versions. Two project lessons were observed and video-recorded in each participating school, during the 6-7 week challenge period.

A range of data sources were used including statistical analysis of student retrospective pre-post student survey data (Drennan & Hyde, 2008); and systematic coding of video-recorded classroom observations (drawing on T-SEDA resources, Hennessy, et al, 2016).

Ethical approval was granted by the host academic institution, before data collection commenced.

Findings
Classroom observations evidenced how a focus on technical (including design and development) and future skills manifested and merged during programme lessons, as students collaborated to share, explore and critique ideas, in response to authentic and meaningful challenges, to create something they could not have done individually. In the full presentation we will share an analysis of exchanges in which teacher and students interrogated ideas together. We found many examples of prompts by the teacher leading students to join the dialogue to develop and build the idea and rationale. Such examples evidence the importance of an overarching dialogic ethos, where students are encouraged to maintain a space to play with ideas and engage with differing views, as well as feeling comfortable to critique others’ suggestions, before committing to a final solution.

Quantitative findings from 100+ retrospective pre-post student surveys, indicate significant change in students’ perceptions of the skills they have and skills they need from before participating in the programme to after. Survey data revealed that students reflected positively on their experience in terms of linking their subject and studies to future workplace needs, knowledge of these needs, and a sense of having some of the required skills. Significant positive changes were also evident in students’ perception of their ability to reflect on what they have done well, and think about how they can improve their work; confidence to present ideas to others; and ability to think about problems in different ways.

The videos brought real world challenges into the classroom and encouraged students to address the challenges. Links between the language used in the industry videos and the students’ dialogue were found during classroom observations suggesting that, in a process referred to as 'ventriloquation', students were appropriating new ideas and perspectives. The Students and teachers referred back to the videos during subsequent stages of the Virtual Internships. The students also responded to the videos by interacting with other knowledge sources located outside of the physical classroom and bringing them into the classroom dialogue, to expand dialogic space.

Theoretical and educational significance
In this presentation we evidence how the Virtual Internships programme supported development of students’ technical and future skills. We acknowledge the role of communication technologies, in this case the industry videos, as a tool for introducing the global challenges and initiating dialogue in the classroom. We highlight the impact on students’ ongoing outlook toward their personal development and sense of agency in time-limited group work, and in projecting the relevance of this to a longer trajectory of career aspirations, options and readiness. Such work has significance for broadening horizons of expectation, where opportunities may otherwise be perceived as limited, thus disrupting the cycle and impact of some existing digital, social and geographical divides.

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