Academic journal article International Journal of Education and Development using Information and Communication Technology

Engagement Theory, WebCT, and Academic Writing in Australia

Academic journal article International Journal of Education and Development using Information and Communication Technology

Engagement Theory, WebCT, and Academic Writing in Australia

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

The development of Engagement Theory for technology-based teaching and learning provides guidelines specifically for Information and Communication Technology (ICT). This article is drawn from a case study in which a popular learning management system, WebCT, is used in an academic writing course at the University of Sydney, Australia. The study highlights both the benefits and difficulties of using technology when teaching academic writing and shows how effective Engagement Theory has been in the design, implementation, and outcomes of the website associated with the course. The website enhances the teaching and learning experiences of the students and the lecturer, students participate actively in the unit, interact and collaborate with each other and with the lecturer, and do so within a safe environment. The students also work together on projects that are meaningful and which are directly relevant to their own disciplines. Significantly, the time associated with the development and maintenance of the site was a problem, an issue not addressed by Engagement Theory.

Keywords:

INTRODUCTION

Kearsley's and Shneiderman's development of a theoretical framework for technology-based teaching and learning has benefited curriculum developers by providing clear guidelines that specifically relate to Information and Communication Technology (ICT), and has helped to increase credibility of the general benefits of ICT in educational settings. As in other countries around the world, use of ICT is an ever-increasing feature of education in Australia, and Kearsley's and Shneiderman's Engagement Theory does and will continue to enhance the quality of ICT in education. The following article is a case study of the use of a popular learning management system, WebCT, in an academic writing course at the University of Sydney, Australia. The study highlights a significant number of the benefits and difficulties faced with teaching academic writing, an area of study not common at tertiary level in Australia, and shows how effective the use of Engagement Theory has been in the design, implementation, and outcomes of the WebCT site associated with the course of study.

ENGAGEMENT THEORY

Kearsley and Shneiderman indicate that Engagement Theory shares many of the features of other theoretical frameworks for learning, particularly constructivist and problem-based learning approaches, however, they believe that "technology can facilitate engagement in ways which are difficult to achieve otherwise" (Kearsley & Shneiderman 1999). Engagement Theory specifically promotes student activities that "involve cognitive processes such as creating, problem-solving, reasoning, decision-making, and evaluation" in which students are "motivated to learn due to the meaningful nature of the learning environment and activities" (Kearsley & Shneiderman 1999). An ICT environment, they claim, is best suited to providing a meaningful and authentic experience for students, one that can be configured to simulate the kinds of experiences students will face outside of the classroom. Specifically, Engagement Theory comprises three components:

Relating: learning activities that occur in a group context

Creating: learning activities that are project-based

Donating: learning activities that have an outside (authentic) focus

Relating, that is, collaborative work, forces students to "clarify and verbalize their problems, thereby facilitating solutions" (Kearsley & Shneiderman 1999). Creating involves student participation in the development of their assessment tasks: "students have to define the project and focus their efforts on application of ideas to a specific context" (Kearsley & Shneiderman 1999). Donating "stresses the value of making a useful contribution while learning" (Kearsley & Shneiderman 1999), a feature that motivates learners because they are engaged with an activity they value. …

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