Prairie South School Division

Team Members: Patti Rodger, Toni New, Roger Morgan, Lana Nogue, Cori Saas, Shelley Wright, Dean Shareski
Community: Canadian Year 1, 2010-2011

The members are exploring levels of student engagement involving the use of Web 2.0 tools. Some of the questions we have are do the use of Web 2.0 tools increase student engagement, what are the factors that create the best climate for student engagement, and how do we best engage the students in our classroom, whether it’s face to face, or online learning? We created benchmarks to identify what we believe an engaged learner looks like: student ownership, passionate, authentic involvement, digging deeper, motivation. Using these benchmarks, we hope to be able to identify what best engages our students. In short, our hypothesis is Does online learning and use of technology enhance student engagement and ultimately result in a deeper learning of content?

Although we teach in varied contexts, the bottom-line is teacher-centred vs. student-centred classrooms. With the use of technology does a student-centred initiative create greater engagement than the traditional dispensation of learning? Roger’s project centred around the use of Moodle as a delivery tool and use interactive math applets to explore and create understanding. Cori’s initiative is envisioned as a means to meet the needs of senior students who have announced their advanced reading interests and/or their love of writing. Planners initially explored traditional curriculum options such as an Advanced Course or a Special Project Course option. After much professional dialogue and student input, the focus moved to creating a sustainable initiative that would be driven by the students involved rather than by curriculum content or the involvement of a particular teacher. Shelley’s action research delved into project-based learning that was student centred. Specifically the study of the Holocaust, which resulted in the creation of a Holocaust Museum. Lana explored these questions in a Life Transitions 30 course where grade 11 and 12 students used to technology to access and share information about transitioning from high school to post-secondary learning, moving directly into the work force, and learning about the communities where they will be moving. She also interviewed students in grades 5 & 6 about their experiences with learning math concepts through online learning in LIVE MATHLETICS. It also served as a forum for connecting with students from around the world.


  • create environments that allow students to take ownership of their learning
  • use technology to allow students to dig deeper into areas of learning
  • facilitate opportunities for students to engage in activities that promote authentic involvement, passionate learning, and an internal locus of motivation.
  • The use of technology to improve authentic learning, instead of rote regurgitation

Roger: Explore Learning is a site of math applets that encourage student exploration to develop understanding of math patterns. Result, although the expectation that students would be able to learn effectively through guided exploration and create their own understanding due to a greater degree of engagement, the reality had positive and negative aspects. Students did not have any direct personal instruction to guide them, although they did have guidelines to follow. Students found the experience frustrating as they didn’t have immediate understanding and (from their perspective) did not find it productive. The actual perspective is that they didn’t find it efficient and therefore it frustrated them. However, what it did allow was for students to manipulate variables and explore relationships, this led to a base of understanding that was created and they were able to create an understanding much more efficiently with some direct instruction as there was now a basis for the understanding.

Cori: After exploring more traditional options, the project team focused on a vision whereby:

  • An extracurricular group of senior students in grades 9 come together to chat about what they are reading, to collaborate about their writing and to create.
  • This Advanced ELA Working Group will not replace current ELA courses but act as a ‘coffee house’ space for discussion and mutual support
  • Technology will provide the venue for the students’ meetings, a venue most comfortable to youth today. Sense of belonging in our Ning
  • Ultimately the project will be sustained by the students’ own passion and interests rather than by the curriculum, or by a particular teacher, or by the formal structures of the school division.

Shelley: I wanted to see students take ownership of their learning. This would span from the topics beings studied, to the creation of the Museum itself, what would be included and focussed on, and what would be left out.

Lana: Students gained information about the post-secondary institutions they will be attending in the fall, possible housing opportunities, and services in the community, such as banking institutions, shopping locales and recreation opportunities. Students were also able to create a personal budget based on realistic living costs of the designated communities. Students were assessed on the successful acquisition of information, their feedback on levels of satisfaction in finding pertinent information, and the creation of a realistic budget based on authentic costs of living in the proposed locations.

  • Jan – define project – determine start point and comparisons of engagement
  • Feb – define individual approaches to engagement
  • March – explore Web 2.0 tools with students with curriculum based objectives.
  • April – observe and interview students to determine engagement from teacher perspective and from student perspective.
  • May – summarize research for present
Engagment in Online vs Face-to-Face Learning Recommendations that have been implemented already in development:

  • Video is now a required component of online learning, lessons, activities, and instruction will all have a video component. Given various methods of instruction, by far the most time efficient and positive feedback came from asynchronous video, even preferred over synchronous video, as the student then had the opportunity to pause, digest, review, and control the pace of instruction.

Student recommendations that will be implemented in future courses:

  • Note taking is vital to success, but it does not need to be structured. Students need to have the flexibility to determine which information is needed for them
  • For math and science based courses, access to detailed explanations is a must. All information does not need to be presented, but “one-click” access to answers is preferred. In other words, a video or text based answer key needs to be one click away. The key must not give the answer “37”, it needs to provide a detailed explanation of the process. Also, multiple versions of how to arrive at “37” is preferred.
  • Self directed exploration did not serve a productive purpose for student learning. Interactive labs and activities through web 2.0 were only successful if there were structured guidelines for the students to work through and sporadic reinforcement of success, to let the students know that they were learning accurately.
  • “Face-time” is important. Of various modes of presentation, direct instruction where the instructor is visible, cartoon based instruction, and smartboard type instruction with audio…..methods where the instructor is visible (facially) to the students was a vastly preferred method.

There were many positive suggestions in regards to efficiencies to create online courses which will be implemented, but in regards to student engagement, the results were not as positive. Students perspective of whether or not they were engaged, was “Am I learning effeciently (not necessarily in depth)”. When Web 2.0 tools were integrated into the coursework and self exploration was encouraged, there was not a positive response. Students were frustrated trying to create their own understanding as it was not a time effecient method (in their perspective) of their learning.

Shelley: In our case, the Museum was amazing. Technology and Web tools allowed us to access information that we would not have been able to find otherwise, and to a vast amount of information, photos, and artwork. However, the success of this project was not due to the web tools. The tools were not what caused their engagement. It was the format of the learning, the fact that the class was student driven, on a topic of interest,and was for an authentic audience. They were deeply engaged because in order to create an authentic museum their information needed to be correct. They also needed to be able to build exhibits with depth, and converse with their audience with a deep knowledge of their topic. It was real work rather than busy work. Our project is complete. However, this experience has convinced me of the importance of project-based learning.

Learn more about this team’s project, including links and videos, by visiting their team wiki page.


About Action Research Projects

Action research is a process in which Powerful Learning Team members collaboratively examine their own educational practice systematically and carefully. Action research is:

  • Disciplined inquiry into a problem or possibility within the school or classroom
  • Collaborative and usually takes place in a community of practice
  • Meaningful, positive, and reflective
  • Data-driven, action-based, improvement-focused
  • Transformative

View all Action Research

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Sheryl is the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Powerful Learning Practice. She works with schools and districts from around the world helping them to infuse technology into their curriculums and by leading other digital conversion efforts. Sheryl also consults with governments, educational organizations and non-profits in development of their various professional learning initiatives. Sheryl is a sought-after presenter at national and international events, speaking on topics related to digital and online learning, teacher and educational leadership, online community building, and other educational issues impacting children of poverty. Sheryl served on the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Board of Directors for six years. She co-authored The Connected Educator: Learning and Leading in a Digital Age with Lani Ritter Hall. Sheryl has four children and four grandsons, Luke, Logan, Levi and Tanner and a trio of dachshunds. You can find out more on her blog and on Twitter @snbeach.

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