Dohn (2009, p.344) argues that use of Web 2.0 tools in education can actively engage students in their learning through dialogue, production and collaboration; provide a bridge between students’ practices with technology in formal and informal learning in personal and academic spaces; and future employment expects competence with Web 2.0 technology.
Selwyn (2010; 2015) suggests that academic study of educational technology tends to focus on its future possibilities and potentials, rather than the ‘here-and-now’ realities of what actually happens in specific contexts (2010, p.69). Greenhow, Robelia & Hughes (2009a & 2009b) and Selwyn (2010) stress the need for critical, distinctive and thick descriptions of what the use of digital technologies in educational settings is actually like, why it is being used the way that it is, and the consequences of this. The purpose of this descriptive case study is to “capture the messy process” (Zhao, Pugh, Sheldon & Byers, 2002, p.483) of introducing educational technology into an existing program, through exploration of the following question:
How is the Web 2.0 tool Padlet used for the first time by a Year 10 English class and teacher in an in-depth study of Lord of the Flies by William Golding?
Much of the research into use of Web 2.0 tools in education settings is set in the tertiary sector and focuses on the use of blogs, wikis or discussion boards. This study sought to explore if some of the findings could be applied to the use of Padlet in a secondary education context. Will Padlet need to be used in conjunction with additional structures and explicit expectations to promote participation and collaboration (Cole, 2009; Judd, Kennedy & Cropper,2010)? Will Padlet foster student engagement (Cole, 2009; Ellis, 2015; Kang, Bonk & Kim, 2011; Mashael, Mohammad, Fayyoumi & Alrashideh, 2015; Rashid & Asghar, 2016)? Can Padlet create meaningful course content (Cole, 2009)?
- BACKGROUND TO STUDY
The context of the study is a mixed ability Year 10 English class of 14 boys and 7 girls, and a teacher with 8 years of experience, studying Lord of the Flies by William Golding. All participants have access to an internet enabled device. The teacher felt positive about using technology in education, and wanted to integrate Padlet into the teaching program to use as a formative assessment tool, to motivate students, and to help foster a learning community:
“I’m hoping that it will bring the class together…I’m hoping that them being part of a collective endeavour might have some good pastoral outcomes…”
The teacher and students had never used Padlet, a web-based online wall (called a padlet) that displays posts that can support a range of media. Twelve padlets were created altogether, which could be accessed via links in the school’s learning management system. Students could submit posts without having to create an account in Padlet. Students were assigned to a padlet in groups of 3 – 4, to create posts in response to teacher directed questions relating to specific chapters. Students were expected to start each post with their name, so that the teacher could identify who had created each post. Groups presented their padlet in a later lesson, as a stimulus for class discussion. The teacher also contributed posts throughout the term.
- RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODOLOGY
A range of quantitative and qualitative data was collected and analysed over a six week period during Term 3 of the school year.
3.1 QUANTITATIVE DATA
Quantitative data was collected throughout the study to quantify and categorise student and teacher contributions to Padlet, student engagement behaviours, and student responses to closed questions in a survey.
Each padlet was analysed to quantify how many posts each student had created over the six week period, either individually or as part of a group post. Each post was read and checked for plagiarism, then categorised according to the media used in the post, and the complexity of the post.
Two formal observations took place during two separate lessons to measure student engagement when using Padlet in class. Three students were identified by the teacher as representative of a low, mid and high achieving student. These students were closely observed for on and off task behaviour for a 15 minute period, using 15-second momentary time sampling. This data was recorded in an excel spreadsheet, and represented graphically.
A survey was developed using Google Forms to collect both quantitative and qualitative data from the students at the end of the term about their attitudes towards and use of Padlet in their study of Lord of the Flies. Students’ responses to closed questions were represented graphically in the Google Form Responses summary.
3.2 QUALITATIVE DATA
Qualitative data was collected to provide insight into attitudes about using Padlet for teaching and learning from both the teacher’s and students’ perspectives. Two semi-structured interviews with the teacher were recorded and transcribed – one prior to implementation, and one post implementation, to capture her thoughts about the potential and actual use of Padlet in a novel study. The transcripts were then analysed and coded.
Open responses from the student survey were used to qualify and depth quantitative data.
3.3 DATA ANALYSIS
All the quantitative and qualitative data generated by students was combined into one spreadsheet to assist with analysis. This data was then compared to the coded transcripts from the teacher interviews. Finally, the analysed data was triangulated to help develop common concepts and themes.
The teacher was “very impressed” with Padlet because of its ease of use and its appealing presentation that gave student work “a bit of presence”. She viewed it as a “good way for the kids to collate all their work.” She liked that it could be used in a variety of ways, that it helped to keep track of what the class was doing, and that students could contribute to it a “bit more unobtrusive(ly)” because “it’s not cool to look clever” in front of peers in face to face discussions. She felt that the Padlet helped students to “work really well together” and “stay on task a lot more”.
She preferred its use as a teaching tool rather than a learning tool, believing that some students used Padlet to “disguise the fact that some of them hadn’t read the novel” and “felt at times they were lazy…they were exploiting the internet and not thinking for themselves.” As a teaching tool, she commented on Padlet being “particularly useful if you are doing a subject where there are a huge amount of digital resources and you just want to put them in one place” and it was “good to be able to do a lot of modelling on the Padlet”.
All student posts in Padlet were analysed over the six week study. Only 42% of students responded to the student survey at the end of the study, because they were sent a link to the survey via email, rather than having time in class to complete it, as the teacher was under pressure to finish the novel by the end of term. The teacher believes that the students who did complete the survey are representative of the wider class. This low response rate should be taken into consideration in the findings below.
Students were more likely to make contributions to class discussions than Padlet, contrasting with the teacher’s belief that students would be more comfortable contributing to Padlet (Figure 1).
Students contributed 92% of the 83 posts in Padlet over six weeks. All students were conscious of writing for an audience. The quantity and quality of student posts in Padlet varied (Figure 2). The least number of posts contributed by a student was 1, the most was 9. Posts containing text and image were more likely to be higher in complexity. Students who actively contribute to social media in their personal lives contributed nearly twice as many posts as students who describe themselves as observers in social media (3.9 posts per student active in social media compared to 2 posts per student who is an observer in social media).
Students were placed in groups to create padlets for different chapters, however, the vast majority of posts were written individually. Of the 73 posts created for chapter analysis by students, only 2 included more than one student’s name. Students working on chapters 4/5, 6 and 7 appear to have shared responsibility for answering questions set by teacher. It is unknown if these students discussed their responses together before submitting them. The students working on chapters 8, 9 and 10 did not appear to share their work load, as questions are repeated on these padlets.
All students felt that Padlet helped them develop a better understanding of the novel. 89% of students read other people’s posts on Padlet sometimes to regularly, and 67% of students found this useful.
Discussion with the teacher in the post interview regarding three representative students’ interactions with Padlet during class suggests that the use of Padlet made no difference to levels of engagement for these students (see Appendix D). Each of them contributed to Padlet more often than the average, although 4 of the 5 low achieving student’s posts were plagiarised (Figure 3).
- DISCUSSION OF FINDINGS
Bennett, Bishop, Dalgarno, Waycott, & Kennedy (2012) and Laurillard’s (2013) observations that pedagogy repurposes the use of Web 2.0 tools rather than Web 2.0 technologies reshaping education, was reflected in this case study where the original task of analysing Lord of the Flies remained the primary focus and Padlet was implemented to support that task. As this was the first time that the teacher and students had made use of this tool, this was an expected outcome.
The teacher believed that implementing Padlet in an in-depth study of Lord of the Flies did help to “nudge students’ interest and participation in learning”, reflecting findings from Kang, et. al. (2011).
“I think that they did work really well together…I think that they stayed on task a lot more, and I think that because they were relying on each other’s work it was very clear and obvious who had done what that, that kind of provided some motivation for them so I think that was good.”
Not all students agreed with the teacher:
“interests everyone and people will get involved” (Student 8).
“(I)t was good for class contribution however (I) did not find class contribution helpful” (Student 7)
Data from students and the teacher suggests they felt that Padlet did help promote a learning community. The discussion following will describe how effectively student and teacher use of Padlet supported two characteristics of a learning community – collaborative learning practices and collective knowledge production.
5.1 USE OF PADLET TO SUPPORT COLLABORATIVE LEARNING PRACTICES
Padlet was most valued for its potential to create a collaborative product, rather than its potential to support collaborative process.
The teacher did play a role in modelling participation and collaboration in Web 2.0 environments to students as recommended by Crook (2008, in Grant 2009, p.113), however this practice was not reflected in student posts. Although students worked in teams to create padlets for various chapters, and most posts show evidence of students sharing the work load, few posts were jointly constructed. Some padlets show repetition of content, while analysis of individual student posts shows no evidence of students making links, arguing against or building upon each other’s ideas.
Padlet did support collaborative learning as defined in the 2016 Horizon Report as students or teachers working together in peer-to-peer or group activities (Adams Becker, Freeman, Giesinger Hall, Cummins, & Yuhnke, 2016, p.12). Others would argue that students splitting up the task or working in parallel showed evidence of co-operative rather than collaborative learning (Scanlon, 2000, in Judd et. al., 2010). Padlet has supported less successful collaboration, using Kuhn’s premise (2015, p. 47) that productive collaborations see participants directly engaging in one another’s thinking, whereas less successful collaborations see participants working in parallel. Productive collaboration is evident when students are engaging with socially engaging tasks that require active participation and knowledge building (Cole, 2009), where they are learning to learn together, and seeing how this contributes to individual performance (McFarlane, 2014).
Kuhn (2015) suggests that students benefit from peer collaboration by engaging intellectually with each other. All students felt that Padlet helped them to gain a better understanding of the novel, however survey responses from higher achieving students indicate that Padlet did not facilitate intellectual engagement for this group of students:
“It was good to get all our ideas on the Padlet but I don’t think it helped me to better understand the novel itself, I think its purpose was just to act as a tool to get our ideas down and discuss as a class, I didn’t understand the novel any better than I already did.” (Student 21)
This has implications for grouping and task design, to ensure that all students are benefitting from the integration of Padlet into a teaching program. Judd et. al. (2010, p. 350) echo McFarlane (2014) and Cole (2009) when they recognise in the conclusion of their study that collaborative practice and intellectual engagement are not reliant on the tool alone, but also “…on the way in which individual activities are designed and implemented.”
5.2 USE OF PADLET TO SUPPORT COLLECTIVE KNOWLEDGE PRODUCTION
Web 2.0 tools can create meaningful course content (Cole, 2009), and allow students and teacher to share a repertoire of learning resources (Kang et. al., 2011). The students saw this affordance of Padlet as helpful to their learning:
“It helped me because I had a place to write down ideas and look at other people’s ideas about the book.” (Student 1)
“Having all the information for each chapter in one specific place really helped” (Student 13).
However, students did not contribute to this collective knowledge base equitably. Top contributors were more likely to contribute posts of higher complexity. The range of the quantity of posts created by students (from 1-9) and the fact that 38% of the students contributed 62% of the posts, suggests that some “social loafing” (Kyndt, Raes, Lismont, Timmers, Cascallar & Dochy, 2013, p.134) was occurring, where students do less work because they are in a group. This was commented on by a student when he wrote “(I)t takes everyone in the class to put in effort to work” (Student 3).
The teacher valued the affordance of collective knowledge production from a teaching perspective:
“The good thing about it was that it was…easy to keep track of what we were doing by using Padlet because I had, you know, I could divide the chapters up and because the Padlet was a useful tool for tracking for where you are up to and how much you’ve done and what needs to be still done, so I think that was really helpful” (Teacher post-interview).
Lord of the Flies is a classic text, considered to be part of the literary canon, so there is a vast amount of information about it freely available on the internet. Students made use of this abundance of information by accessing websites such as www.sparknotes.com, www.shmoop.com or www.cliffsnotes.com, or searching for relevant images, as they created their posts in Padlet. Some students used this information critically to inform their responses to questions set by the teacher, while others plagiarised text from these or other websites. This caused tension for the teacher as these two contrasting comments from her pre and post interviews illustrate:
“…often they’ll come across websites to a discussion forum about the novel and they can start to see that the novel is not something that exists in a box within the classroom setting – technology is a good way to explore the wider implications of the text we are studying” (Teacher pre-interview).
”They were exploiting the internet…just copying and pasting things and that was their instinct, to find someone else’s work and copy and paste that and I think that is a problem generally with the internet in teaching…some students…who don’t value their own thinking, and who don’t want to exert themselves.” (Teacher post-interview)
The teacher’s pre-interview comment suggests she likes the potential of students making use of collective knowledge found on the internet, while her post-interview comment suggests that she was disappointed with how her students actually made use of it. The reality of how students made use of this abundance of readily available information has implications for task purpose and design. The teacher’s post-interview comment indicates that she was seeking critical responses from her students and was concerned that some simply entered the question they were asked to respond to into a search engine, then copied the result of their search into their post. Redesigning some of the questions posed to students from easily searchable questions such as “Why is Chapter 7 important?” to more complex questions that direct students to find, critique, and re-mix existing information could change the perceived problem of students ” rely(ing) too much on other resources on the internet”, to an opportunity for creative and critical thinking.
Padlet was implemented to support “…existing goals and views of education” (Dohn, 2009, p.353). The teaching program was teacher-directed, and Padlet was used to support this approach to collate work on the novel, for “chapter work…forum discussions and character analysis and…to tap into some of the resources on the internet for visual learners” (Teacher post-interview).
Use of a Web 2.0 tool does not automatically result in collaborative practice. The tool is just one resource in the context of the broader learning environment that includes elements such as school culture, teacher pedagogy and task design. The tasks that students worked on in Padlet supported co-operative learning, rather than “productive collaboration” (Kuhn, 2015, p. 47).
The affordances of Padlet such as joint creation of content and sharing of information can be viewed as an advantage or disadvantage. The teacher faced a dilemma because of students’ easy access to the abundance of information on the internet about Lord of the Flies. She liked the idea of this, but was disappointed by students’ use of it in Padlet. Her concerns about students using resources on the internet to mask their non-reading of the novel, and their laziness in copying and pasting other peoples’ ideas into Padlet rather than thinking for themselves, has implications for future task design. Consideration needs to be given to how teaching programs can be modified to take advantage of this abundance of information by encouraging students to interact ethically, critically and creatively with it.
There were some parallels between the results of this study and those from other studies with different Web 2.0 tools, or in other education sectors. This suggests that findings from this study could be used to inform use of other Web 2.0 tools in other educational contexts.
- FURTHER RECOMMENDATIONS
This study captured the first use of Padlet by a teacher and students in an existing program, and some of the challenges of using Padlet that this study identified relate to the context in which it was implemented. Further study in the subsequent use of this tool by the teacher with other cohorts, and with this same teaching program in the future, could capture how subsequent integration of Padlet or other Web 2.0 tools into teaching programs impacts on teaching practice and attitudes.
A further recommendation is to repeat this study with another teacher and Year 10 cohort, aiming to get more than a 42% response rate on the student survey, to determine if the findings from this study are replicated.
Laurillard (2013, p. 28) writes that the field of educational research
“…is beginning to recognize that teachers need to help each other discover how best to organize the mix of learning technologies in support of learning. Equally important is the role of students in helping teachers discover how best to develop the new pedagogies.”
It is hoped that this rich description of how a teacher and students made use of Padlet in support of learning in a Year 10 English class will help inform further research and practice.
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