The pilot course was made available to a controlled group of 12 participants, one of whom was the Head of Staff Development, who wanted first-hand experience in order to inform future offer of this course to new teachers. Another participant was the Head of Enrolments who wanted to improve their training skills. Out of the other 10 participants two had identified they were teaching for two years, but did not have previous training and wanted to enrol on this course in order to review their knowledge about teaching strategies. The remaining were new teachers with no experience or had only recently started teaching. This information was gained partly through the application forms and partly through the profile information that participants were encouraged to contribute on the online platform. The participants would receive a one-off payment and a certificate of achievement from staff development, on completion of the course. The reasoning for this was that new teachers could be given an incentive, in the future, of participating in a trio of online courses, viz. Induction to City Lit, Teacher’s Toolkit and Equality & Diversity. Therefore, it could be that this may have been the primary motivation of some of the participants.
Action research does not always progress neatly as planned; the originally planned action spiral could become imbued with more spirals (McNiff, 1988, cited in Waters-Adams,2006). The teacher education co-ordinator suddenly left their position. This meant that another member of the team, a sessional trainer, had to be employed to moderate the online course. They had to be updated with the research intentions, the format of the course and their role within its facilitation. This meant that the course was opened a week later than intended. Another spiral was the lack of participation from two of the original 12 participants and repeated contact via email and telephone did not result in any response, therefore, making it difficult to gauge whether this had anything to do with the online learning. Of the 10 remaining participants one withdrew during the first week due to ill health. Yet another spiral occurred when three participants stopped engaging after the first week. Only one of these responded that they would continue, the other two did not respond. In fact these three participants did not complete the course. They were given a week’s extension, however, none of them responded.
As the research progressed, the course trainer logged weekly updates on participant activity (Fig 9).
This included levels of participation as well as quality of reflection that indicated level of learning. From these weekly updates it was clear that the enthusiasm of the first week waned, so that mid-way through the course, the trainer had to post a gentle reminder to encourage some of the participants to complete the first set of the reflective logs. It was decided to keep this intervention to a minimum as the course was based on the flexibility it offered for engagement based on individual time scales. After all, online learning offers an opportunity for flexibility through ‘anywhere, anytime’ learning. Participants can control when and where they learn as well as how they engage with their learning and the pace at which they move through the learning material (Vander Ark and Hudson, 2014). The results for this research, are therefore, based on the contributions of the six who completed the course. From previous experience of non-accredited online learning, this is not an unknown phenomenon. Figures from the online programme run for facilitators of informal learning, generated a comparable data of participation. Reasons for this were inconclusive; the few who responded confirmed that the online learning environment was not suitable for them and the rest chose not to respond. Therefore, 50% retention and achievement on this programme is considered to be an acceptable result for the purpose of this research. The most disappointing spiral is the missed opportunity to observe all those who completed the course, within the time-frame of this project. However, interesting data is available from one of the participants observed. He identified that he “had not really had much time to put everything into practice but (…) that the main thing the Teacher’s Toolkit had done has given more confidence, that a lot of what (I am) doing is right”. The observer had, coincidentally, observed his teaching practice before starting the course. According to her, “the main difference I found was in his paperwork. His lesson plan and RARPA were better structured since my last visit, and his objectives better formed”.
As expected the most significant data was gathered from the reflective logs of each participant. Answers to the two questions demonstrated various degrees of reflection. It was most interesting to see that the new teachers had, in fact, reflected in great detail. This evidences their genuine engagement with the learning material and their ability to conceptualise their learning, including future application in the classroom. Below are a few examples of these reflections:
Participant ‘AR’ was able to identify the significance of “activities designed to reflect the objectives detailed in my planning (…) to be focused on moving the learner from a basic level of knowledge acquisition, as detailed in Benjamin Bloom’s pyramid, to the highest possible level of analytical thinking”.
Participant ‘BR’ recognised they need to “identify where something can be improved or done differently by engaging with my students and personal reflection using tools like KOLB’s experiential learning cycle”.
Participant ‘EM’, one of the teachers with some teaching experience acknowledged the importance of planning “a logical sequence; what the students need to do (at) each stage (of Bloom’s taxonomy)”.
Overall, the reflective logs confirm that the resources provided had enabled these learners to gain sufficient information on the basics of effective teaching, to be able to understand their meaning for themselves and then identify ways of applying them in their teaching practice. “Learning theorists such as Bloom and Kolb (…) underscore the importance of experiential learning to developing mastery of a subject” (Schatzberg, 2002). In essence, by participating in the Teacher’ Toolkit programme, the new teachers had themselves engaged in an experiential learning process (Kolb), whilst also moving through Bloom’s taxonomy within the three learning domains – Knowledge, Skills and Attitude. They had identified the practical skills of planning strategies that would support inclusive learning; they had gained knowledge the methodology and theoretical concepts related to teaching and learning; they had an understanding about how adults learn and the related challenges.
Towards the end of the online course it was identified that the classroom visits were appearing to be unviable as of the six remaining participants only two would be teaching within the time-frame of this project. As the possibility of measuring the actual impact through a classroom visit was not going to be possible, it was decided to send out a final self-evaluation form to each of the six participants who completed the course. This was done to gather some more robust data that would complement that gained from the reflective logs. Below are a few examples of the responses received:
1. What have you learned on the course that has made you reflect on your teaching and /or will inform your future teaching practice?
Participant ‘AB’: “I feel like I’ve been successful at this (planning) in the past but without really understanding why the things I was doing worked”.
2. Have you progressed towards targets you set at the start of the course and what new ones do you want to set for future development?
Participant ‘BM”: “I set myself the goal of understanding better the challenges that teaching an unaccredited FE course raises. I feel that I have achieved this goal, and now I need to set about answering adequately those challenges”.
3. Were the online resources useful in supporting your learning?
Participant ‘BR’: “Very much so, to the point and very informative. Delivered brilliantly. it was also very helpful to have so much flexibility with time to accommodate for my own erratic work schedule”.
4. Do you have any specific recommendations in relation to this course?
Participant ‘EM’: “using moodle was fine but I found it could be a bit more user friendly, for example making the link to the course itself more obvious. It can get a bit lost amongst all the other links and information and it wasn’t clear at first where to find the actual meat of the course itself (Fig 6). The course itself was clear and well structured and understandable. Overall I’ve taken a lot of value from this and thank you for taking the time to put it together”.
This self-evaluation evidences that for these six participants, engaging with the course was a positive experience and one that did support their learning on teaching adults effectively. Two of the participants are now looking towards gaining an initial teacher training qualification. An interview was conducted with the Head of Staff Development.
She is an experienced trainer, however, she considered the information within this course as a timely refresher for developing her skills. She also thought it was an excellent tool for new teachers and included just the right amount of information within an appropriate time-frame. She will be recommending it to all new academic staff, currently starting at the City Lit, as well as future staff. She also made a couple of useful suggestions for future improvement – to give options for extended learning and an option for leaners to save their reflections as drafts so that they can return back to them before finally submitting them.
The final results were obtained from the one classroom visit and the follow-up professional discussion with the participant.
Within this the teacher identifies the value of the programme in supporting his development, especially for keeping RARPA records, questioning, using a glossary, use of icebreakers, finding out more about learners and awareness of their issues and, most importantly, “teaching by doing” and using the “medal and mission” feedback method. The observer identified the progress of this teacher from a previous observation in the areas of recap and paperwork. This teacher (and another participant) has already contacted the Head of Staff Development to enrol on the initial teacher training qualification: Award in Education and Training.