A Teacher’s Influence on Student Engagement: Using Smartphones for Creating Vocational Assessment ePortfolios

Bronwyn Hegarty, Matt Thompson
Journal of Information Technology Education: Research  •  Volume 18  •  2019  •  pp. 113-159

The aim of the study was to investigate how the facilitation of a vocational lecturer (teacher) influenced the engagement of fifteen carpentry students during their learning. This facilitation occurred while the students used smartphones and mobile applications to create visual assessment ePortfolios.

To encourage independence and peer collaboration, when creating their visual ePortfolios, the lecturer decided to get his students to use BYOD mobile devices, and social media applications to record their learning of technical skills. His intention was to make use of the devices they brought to class, and to enable greater autonomy and flexibility in the learning process by eliminating the need for digital cameras and proprietary software they had previously been using. The lecturer also saw this as an opportunity to provide more frequent and immediate formative feedback, and to encourage students to share their work.

A Participatory Action Research design was used with fifteen certificate level students. They were guided in the use of three social media applications (apps) – Facebook, Evernote and Google Plus (G+) that they could use on their Smartphones to develop ePortfolios for assessment. Both quantitative and qualitative data was collected during four Action Cycles, and the outcomes are portrayed as a case study. Several sampling methods were used: a student pre-survey, and post-survey, observations and reflections by the lecturer, focus group interviews with students and an individual interview with the lecturer. For this article, a framework based on established factors of student engagement was used to examine the findings to establish the impact of the teacher.

This paper extends the body of research about student engagement with a focus on the importance of the teacher in supporting 21st Century vocational learning and ePortfolio assessment using mobile technologies.

The majority of students were comfortable with the learning approach using the three applications and their mobile phones, and felt confident with the technologies. Overall, they found the learning approach was more convenient and made the experience easier, as well as enjoyable and fun. Students believed that mobile learning helped their learning and assisted them to connect with others. All three apps were considered easy to access. Facebook was the most preferred app with Google Plus (G+) the least liked. Evernote was favoured for its image editing and annotation features.

Students responded well to the lecturer's teaching methods and the learning environment he created. He was found to be pivotal to the learning process. As a result of the lecturer’s learning and assessment design, students enhanced their achievement rates. He scaffolded their use of mobile technologies through: demonstrating and modelling each app at the start of the cycle of use, use of technologies during their learning, and by providing prompt, frequent and timely feedback on their ePortfolio work. Since he enabled them to use devices familiar to them, that is, smartphones, he helped them to develop autonomy and confidence.

The lecturer was supportive and enthusiastic and encouraged students through structured and well-designed collaborative activities to engage in active learning that challenged them, and encouraged collaboration. He guided them in their learning through regularly interacting with them to provide feedback, and he also added an aspect of competitiveness to the activities to motivate them.

Teaching staff are advised to seek guidance when designing learning activities using mobile technologies, and to access technical support. Cochrane’s (2014) six critical success factors for designing learning using mobile devices would assist. Also, it would be useful to carry out a needs analysis with students and other stakeholders beforehand.

Participatory Action Research is a robust methodology for trialling innovative learning strategies because when using this approach, researchers can be immediately responsive to the needs of the participants.

An understanding of the factors associated with student engagement and high self-efficacy for using mobile technologies is essential for teachers tasked with designing contemporary learning activities in today’s higher education learning environments. Encouraging the use of mobile devices that students own, and have familiarity using, helps to make learning and teaching more sustainable.

Further research is needed to measure the impact of factors associated with student engagement, on the design of student-centred learning using contemporary technologies. It would also be helpful to examine the implications of student engagement measures as predictors of excellence in teaching, and in the development of learner capability (e.g., critical thinking, social justice awareness, reasoning, etc.).

student engagement, mobile technologies, smartphones, eportfolios, vocational learning
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