Research topic – initial thoughts

It’s at this time of year that I most miss secondary school teaching. While others rejoice in two weeks holiday, I’m still fronting up at the office at 8am, often covering for colleagues who have taken time off with their young children. Or maybe I’m just lamenting the fact my two teenage boys would rather stay home and spend time with their mates than have a holiday away with their less-cool parents (am reluctant to admit to being totally uncool yet). OK, enough self-flagellation of the ego…

It’s proving a difficult process to hone in on a research topic and some of that has to do with the dual expectations of also orientating myself to the structure of the course and new technologies. However, I’ve found the shared forum on research ideas invaluable for understanding that the focus is on change in education as a result of the implementation of technologies. To me that means focusing on whether a digital technology intervention results in improved learning outcomes and how it is achieved. That’s not just the affordances of the technology itself but how it alters teaching and learning practices.

I’m the coordinator of Learning Services at CPIT, so my own teaching and learning context is providing tertiary students with the academic literacies and support to pass their courses and become independent learners. In narrowing down possible topics, I’m aware that technology is playing an increasingly important role in how we support ‘struggling’ students. A limited staffing resource and increasing numbers of blended and distance courses means that we need to develop an online presence and digital resources. In addition, some students struggle through their programmes due to specific learning disabilities and we need to support them the best way we can.

So, there are two relevant research areas of focus for me that only some wider reading can further clarify:

1. the effectiveness of online resources as a means of meeting students’ academic literacy needs
2. the impact of digital technologies in enhancing the learning of students with dyslexia

I don’t know if two are allowed but I feel I need to do further reading before finalising the topic.
Question: Do we reference the sources as retrieved electronically if they come from the course Moodle site?

Annotated Bibliographies

Hughes, J. A. (2004). Supporting the online learner. In T. Anderson & F. Elloumi (Eds.), Theory and Practice of Online Learning (Ch. 15, pp. 367-384). Athabasca, Canada: Athabasca University.

This chapter focuses on the importance of a supportive online learning environment. In order to ensure student success, educators must know the learners in order to identify their needs. That knowledge includes their students’ language, cultural, literacy and digital readiness for online learning. The chapter then focuses on the resources that should be put in place to support the learner, from administrative and technological support to academic support in the form of study resources and asynchronous “online educational counselling.” The chapter finishes with a case study outlining the lessons learnt in developing an online degree programme by a consortium of universities.

The book is published by a reputable university and the author has doctorate level educational qualifications. A useful section on study skills assistance identified both the type of resources students require and the tools for facilitating communication with expert mentors and peers. In particular, what Hughes calls educational counselling, I understand as the need to provide asynchronous online academic support when an intervention is required.

Schwartz, L. M. (2004). Technical evaluation report 2: Using internet audio to enhance online accessibility. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning 5(2), 1-7.

This article addresses the accessibility of online content to persons with any form of disability. In particular, it explains the benefits of the Voice-over Internet Protocol medium (VOIP) that enables the digital transmission of speech and other types of digital data over the Internet. It facilitates the use of speech-to-text and text-to-speech conversion which benefits persons with disabilities, including dyslexia. The article identifies a number of barriers to such a protocol, such as requiring additional assistive hardware, and interoperability with different operating systems and network providers.

The article is peer-reviewed before being published in a refereed e-journal. The content focuses on the technical aspects and issues of VOIP, therefore is of limited relevance in answering my research question on the impact of the technology on learning for students with dyslexia. I also think that many of the technical issues raised around the implementation of VOIP may have been solved in the intervening years since publication. That said, the article has identified that audio digital technologies do supports students with learning disabilities, an aspect that requires further investigation.