Project aim: The aim of the proposed study is to establish the process issues and potential benefits of embedding Academic Language and Learning (ALL) support into an existing nursing unit for external students. This will be delivered via the ‘Wimba’ virtual learning environment on the “Blackboard” e-learning platform. In particular, the study will assess the effects of the embedded ALL program on student outcomes (academic performance and attrition/retention) in relation to those of a comparison group of external nursing students who undertake the e-learning nursing unit without the embedded ALL support. Charles Darwin University student demographic Charles Darwin University (CDU), located in the Northern Territory has a unique student demographic profile. More than 60% of its enrolled students are external and living throughout Australia. These include a large proportion of students from non-traditional low-socio-economic back grounds; Indigenous students in remote areas; first generation students; mature aged students who may not have had formal education for some years; and LOTE domestic students who have not achieved adequate academic language competency. Meeting the academic language and learning (ALL) support needs of this increasingly heterogeneous student population presents many challenges due to their varying academic backgrounds, life experiences, as well as their geographical remoteness. The School of Academic Language and Learning has recently been trialling a variety of different pedagogical strategies (including virtual classrooms) to better engage and more effectively support this diverse student population. One of these strategies has been to trial the use of the Wimba e-learning virtual learning environment. This was enabled by CDU having established a working agreement with the developers of the Blackboard e-learning platform and Wimba’s suite of online collaborative tools including a virtual learning/classroom environment which we propose using in this study.
At present most CDU external students have access to learning materials online and liaise with their lecturer via email; however this has a number of limitations including time delays for responses to queries and the ability to learn from other students. Anecdotal feedback from external students highlights the need for increased interaction between students and lecturers. Wimba offers an innovative means of meeting this need by enabling synchronous online collaboration whereby students can exchange ideas with each other and the lecturer and in turn feel part of a community of learners progressing toward common goals.
Since 2009, internal students at CDU have had access to on-campus embedded ALL support workshops in a few selected units. Lecturers of units with an academic component relinquish up to 5 hours of their tutorial time as they recognise the value of this academic support to their students. The embedded program is customised to each particular unit and incorporates the students’ upcoming assignment tasks in the workshop material to ensure their subject relevance.
At the same time that these embedded workshops were instigated in units delivered on campus, they were also delivered on-line via a Wimba class-room to the external students within these units. Early student surveys, of both the on-campus students and the on-line students indicated appreciation of the ALL support; however, the external group expressed particularly strong appreciation for the academic language and learning support and the real-time contact it afforded them.
Pilot project of embedded ALL support on-line
This pilot project will build on this experience to deliver the embedded ALL support as an integral component of a first year nursing unit. The aim is to assess the effectiveness of this intervention in terms of the retention and success of external students who participate in the Wimba sessions. Health and the Health Professions (NUR 111) is usually the first unit students in this course undertake. Traditionally, about two-thirds of these students are external. Many of them are working full-time as enrolled nurses. A large percentage of these are mature aged students who have not studied formally for some years, and who may not have reached a high level of secondary education at the time they left school.
The study will be carried out throughout Semester 1, 2010.The enrolment for Semester 1, 2010 is not yet finalised, but is currently 250 students. Approximately two-thirds of these, i.e. 190 students are external. Attendance at ALL support workshops is not compulsory, so the number is expected to be smaller than 160. Indeed, the number is too large to be effective in a workshop, so the material will be repeated twice, and students will have the choice of two different time slots, thus reducing the size of each class. This will constitute the first population for our study.
These students will attend 5 one-hour ALL support workshops in essay writing skills in a Wimba class-room during the first 5 weeks of semester. The study will gather both qualitative and quantitative data from this group.
The outcomes from this cohort will be compared to the outcomes of the 2011 cohort in the same unit. Neither internal nor external students in the 2011 cohort will be offered embedded support, but directed to self-paced ALL support on the School of Academic Language and Learning website.
It is anticipated that the group which participates in the ALL support via Wimba will be more likely to attain higher assignment marks and unit grades and improved retention in comparison to the control group which will not be offered Wimba support classes, but directed to on-line self-directed modules offering ALL support learning.