Pushing the boundaries of remote learning within virtual online environments to develop dialogue and collaboration

Twiner, Alison; Waters, Mark; Major, Louis; Podmore, Jason and Wegerif, Rupert (2021). Pushing the boundaries of remote learning within virtual online environments to develop dialogue and collaboration. In: British Educational Research Association Annual Conference, Sep 2021.

URL: https://www.bera.ac.uk/conference/bera-conference-...


Workshop aims
This workshop offers a ‘students-eye view’ and hands-on exploration of an EdTech innovation, grounded in original research highlighting the need for mutual attention to developing students’ digital and dialogic skills. Through workshop interaction, delegates will co-develop rich understandings around supporting effective online and offline collaboration.

3D visualisation applications such as Unreal Engine are having significant impacts across game-creation, engineering, space, and digital media sectors. Access to such communities can appear out-of-reach to many young people, due to needing expensive and powerful hardware. In response, we developed a collaborative 3D virtual creation space where students work together and with professionals. In the virtual space students use 3D visualisation applications such as Unreal Engine with low-spec hardware – opening access to those with aspiring talent and interest but without the need for substantial financial outlay. The virtual space also means students can be supported when accessing learning remotely – crucial over the past year – through domestic broadband.

Research is clear however that merely providing technological solutions will not transform learning (Mercer, Hennessy & Warwick, 2019): attention is also needed to encourage students’ meaningful engagement. Stahl and colleagues have explored online collaborative learning (e.g. Çakır, Zemel & Stahl, 2009; Stahl, et al., 2014), highlighting the multimodality of interaction. Similarly, we note Bridges et al.’s (2020) ‘dialogic intervisualising’, where students combine verbal discussion and technology-mediated visual resources to develop understanding. In this workshop we consider the scope, challenges and manifestations of ‘dialogic intervisualising’ at a whole new level: where learners are not passive users of someone else’s environment but are transitioning to being creators in a powerful development environment.

Underpinning research
This workshop draws on findings from rigorous Design-Based Research to explore the potential of the virtual space, consider barriers to its effective use and how to overcome them. The work involved collaboration between academic researchers, teachers, students, and a social enterprise linking education and careers through 3D technologies. Four institutions in north England hosted 12 hours of online sessions over several weeks. Students (aged 14-18) were co-located in classrooms or at home due to COVID lockdown, with the technology experts and researcher accessing remotely. Ethical approval was granted by the host university before data collection commenced.

All sessions were video-recorded through screen capture software, and chat logs saved. Students completed a retrospective pre-post survey (Drennan & Hyde, 2008), and contributed to a focus group with their peers, after the programme. Teachers engaged in pre- and post-programme interviews. To ensure a rigorous approach, data were analysed through systematic coding of screen-captured sessions (drawing on Hennessy, et al., 2016) and qualitative discourse analysis, alongside statistical and thematic analysis of survey, focus group and interview data.

Workshop participation
During the workshop we will discuss how to facilitate students’ effective collaboration (online and offline): building on project experience, and reflecting with participants how to develop this further. The workshop will be participatory and inclusive and will involve:

Demonstrating the 3D virtual space: inviting attendees to collaborate on a design challenge, as a flavour of what students experienced. The space is compatible with any device but delegates will need free software to access it (details can be obtained from the lead author in advance, or downloaded during the workshop).
Encouraging delegates to share reflections – verbally, through jamboard and session chat – on extracts of programme sessions: to consider how students’ dialogue unfolded alongside system manipulation, and exemplify complex dialogic intervisualisation as groups responded to challenges.
Alongside observed ‘successes’, problematising challenges to students’ dialogic participation which can hinder meaningful collaboration, regardless of technologies. Given the known benefits of collaboration to understanding and achievement (Howe, et al., 2019; Mercer, et al., 2019), we invite workshop attendees to explore with us – verbally in breakout groups, through Google Docs and session chat – how to support engagement in virtual dialogue that students feel ‘safe’ with.

Theoretical and educational significance
We can already demonstrate how the virtual server-based system opens opportunities that were not previously possible. However, we know technological potentials are often not realised, depending on how tools are embedded within wider pedagogic practices and students’ learning behaviours. This workshop offers a creative space to co-develop understandings that will be critical to advancing theory and practice in the near and longer-term future. Whilst physical restrictions of COVID on learning will ease, resourcing equitable access will remain pivotal. Such an approach has significant implications for shaping the future possibilities of learning mediated by technologies, if learners can be supported to feel comfortable engaging dialogically with each other within the virtual space.

Bridges, S.M., Hmelo-Silver, C.E., Chan, L.K., Green, J.L. & Saleh, A. (2020). Dialogic intervisualizing in multimodal inquiry. International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, https://doi.org/10.1007/s11412-020-09328-0

Çakır, M., Zemel, A. & Stahl. G. (2009). The joint organization of interaction within a multimodal CSCL medium. International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, 4, 115-149. DOI 10.1007/s11412-009-9061-0

Drennan, J. & Hyde, A. (2008). Controlling response shift bias: The use of the retrospective pre‐test design in the evaluation of a master's programme. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 33(6), 699-709.

Hennessy, S., Rojas-Drummond, S., Higham, R., Torreblanca, O., Barrera, M.J., et al. (2016). Developing an analytic coding scheme for classroom dialogue across educational contexts. Learning, Culture and Social Interaction 9, 16-44.

Howe, C., Hennessy, S., Mercer, N., Vrikki, M., & Wheatley, L. (2019). Teacher–student dialogue during classroom teaching: Does it really impact on student outcomes? Journal of the Learning Sciences, 28(4-5), 462-512.

Mercer, N., Hennessy, S. & Warwick, P. (2019). Dialogue, thinking together and digital technology in the classroom: Some educational implications of a continuing line of inquiry. International Journal of Educational Research, 97, 187-199.

Stahl, G., Cress, U., Ludvigsen, S. & Law, N. (2014). Dialogic foundations of CSCL. International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, 9, 117-125. DOI 10.1007/s11412-014-9194-7

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