Will Simpson

  • What constitutes an effective and workable teaching method?

    Will Simpson, University of Central England, UK

    Poonam Aulak, University of Central England, UK

    Session 2a, Tuesday 09.00

    Research seminar

    Themes addressed:

    • Teaching methods
    • e-Learning
    • Supporting learners

    Higher education teaching is situated in an environment that is complex and multi-faceted, needing to handle simultaneous and complex learner variables, together with diverse and conflicting pedagogic and institutional aims. Teaching style is moving from being traditionally behaviourist towards a more active and social constructionist approach, inspired by Piaget and Vygotsky. A ‘one size fits all’ teaching environment is not good enough; learning is personal, so teaching should be personalised. A technology-enhanced teaching environment is under development at the University of Central England in Birmingham, having evolved through WebCT to a constructivist style home-grown system. Ideas from adaptive technology research, popularised by Brusilovsky and de Bra (1999), networked collaborative learning (McConnell, 1998) and scaffolding (McLoughlin, 2000) have helped shape the technology. Learner support has been influenced by studies on motivation (Elton, 1988), conversational approach (Laurillard, 1992), UK Open University (Simpson, 2000) and VARIES framework (Nichols, 2003).

    The basic research question – what constitutes an effective and workable teaching method? – is being addressed in a long term action research study and is associated with collaborative projects at the university: HEI work-based e-learning and Computer Supported Experiential Learning. This paper describes the methodology and presents interim results from the research project which takes place in an HE engineering faculty, teaching business subjects to around 200 first year undergraduate students on technology courses. The study investigates an environment that delivers an effective blend of dynamic adaptive technology with face-to-face team teaching. A large survey with 60 Likert scale questions in nine groups including motivation, online technology, teaching and support, was obtained with informed consent from 100 students. Using SPSS, Chronbach’s Alpha (Gliem, 2003) test, with a cut-off at 0.73, determined that only 40 questions were reliable and together with 68 valid cases these were then analysed using Principal Component Analysis with Varimax rotation. Two components accounting for 60% of the variance were extracted and Catells scree test showed clear separation of the first. Close correlations of sets of groups within component plots indicate the importance of tutors in key learner support aspects.

    As a result of the data analysis, developments in learner support have become the key to effective and successful use of the technology. Taking back the responsibility for learning in the early stages of HE, by shifting from reactive to proactive mode, is now a goal. Although it is difficult to satisfy all demands simultaneously, when appropriately blended with technology, teaching can be both effective and workable.


    • De Bra P, Brusilovsky P, Houben GJ, (1999) "Adaptive Hypermedia: from systems to framework", ACM Computing Surveys, Symposium Issue on Hypertext and Hypermedia
    • Elton L (1988), "Student motivation and achievement", Studies in Higher Education, Vol 13 No2, pp215-21.
    • Gliem J and Gliem R (2003) “Calculating, Interpreting, and Reporting Cronbach’s Alpha Reliability Coefficient for Likert-Type Scales” 2003 Midwest Research to Practice Conference in Adult, Continuing, and Community Education, October 8-10, 2003.
    • Laurillard D (1993) Rethinking university teaching: A framework for the effective use of educational technologyLondon: Routledge.
    • McConnell D (1998) Implementing Computer Supported Cooperative Learning, Kogan Page.
    • McLoughlin C and Marshall L (2000). Scaffolding: A model for learner support in an online teaching environment. In A Herrmann and MM Kulski (Eds), Flexible Futures in Tertiary Teaching. Proceedings of the 9th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 2-4 February 2000. Perth: Curtin University of Technology. http://www.c3l.uni-oldenburg.de/cde/support/readings/loughlin2.htm
    • Nichols (2001) Teaching for Learning . New Zealand: Traininc.co.nz
    • Simpson O (2000) Supporting Students in Online Open and Distance Learning. London: Kogan Page