My intitial research proposal

Purpose of the study:

To evaluate the efficacy and effectiveness of a technology-assisted Project Based Learning (PBL) approach to the teaching of English in the secondary school environment with a focus on student engagement and learning outcomes in the study of poetry.

Relevant background literature:

Research has been conducted into the three main focus areas of this study, specifically PBL, ICT in education and teaching poetry. However research into the synergy of these three strands is scarce. Most research into ICT focuses on the technology and not the pedagogy required to successfully and meaningfully integrate the technology into the classroom. Teachers are told it is important to use ICT, but are not told why. A similar story can be told for the teaching of poetry in the secondary classroom. Teachers struggle to teach poetry well in secondary school because ‘being hard to read is one of the markers of the poetic” (Hejinian, 2006), making it a difficult form for students to engage with. However Hejinian (2006) asserts that ‘the conditions of this “post nine-eleven” world … require that we commit ourselves to difficulty’, indicating that the challenge of studying poetry is part of its significance as a form. Barron (1998) found that PBL had ‘positive effects on student learning’ yet Muniandy (2000) found that ‘despite the availability of adequate technology infrastructure (to teachers employing PBL in the classroom) its use was … limited’. Harriman (2003) characterises PBL as a ‘disruptive force within classes’ which has a positive impact on student engagement as well as outlining the benefits of ‘online presentation of projects’.

This study aims to harness these benefits of PBL and ICT to enhance the teaching of poetry in the secondary English classroom. John Dixon observed in the 1970s that ‘Learning to use language continues so long as we are open to new experiences and ready to adapt and modify the representation of the world we have.’ (Dixon, 1975) ICT-based PBL aims to provide students with the collaborative and creative-thinking skills to adapt and modify their representations of the world through the criticism and creation of poetry. ICT-based PBL gives students the skills and resources to inquire into the context of a poet, consider alternative perspectives on poems, poet and the poetic form, draft, edit and publish own poems in a variety of media online whilst social-networking directly connects students to working poets today. These activities reflect a number of the current learning outcomes for students who study in NSW English, for example Standard Outcome H1, ‘a student demonstrates understanding of how relationships between composer, responder, text and context shape meaning’.

Research questions or hypotheses:

How has the level of student engagement increased and learning outcomes improved with an ICT-assisted PBL approach to teaching poetry?

Definitions of key terms:

o PBL definition – ‘In Project Based Learning (PBL), students go through an extended process of inquiry in response to a complex question, problem, or challenge. Rigorous projects help students learn key academic content and practice 21st Century Skills (such as collaboration, communication & critical thinking).’
o Engagement – defined as a “student’s willingness, need, desire and compulsion to participate in, and be successful in, the learning process promoting higher level thinking for enduring understanding.” Bomia, L., Beluzo, L., Demeester, D., Elander, K., Johnson, M., & Sheldon, B. (1997). “The impact of teaching strategies on intrinsic motivation.” Champaign, IL: ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education. p. 294.
o ICT – in the 21st century classroom ICT refers to a combination of fixed (televisions, IWBs, computer lab) and mobile technologies as well as the software and web-based tools teachers and students access.
o Learning outcomes – the knowledge, skill or behaviour that is gained by a student after the completion of learning activities. In this case it refers to outcomes prescribed by the Australian Curriculum – English and the NSW English Syllabi.
o Context – ‘the personal, social, historical, cultural and workplace contexts that produce and value a text’ Stage 6 English Syllabus (2010)

Research methodology:

o questionnaire/surveys/check-lists assessing and evaluating the levels of students’ engagement in a pre-test and post-test format.
o The population will be at least two separate cohorts of students matched for age (ideally Year 9 or Year 11 students to minimize impact on external standardised tests such as School Certificate and Higher School Certificate), demographics and ability and assumed to be representative of the students in this year group across Australia.
o Two different cohorts will be used to avoid practice effects whilst keeping the teaching environment the same except for the difference in the independent variable. One cohort will be taught using the traditional teacher-centred pedagogy (including text-book, whiteboard, worksheets and a classroom layout with students arranged in rows facing the front of the classroom) the other will be PBL-style (including digital technologies such as web-based tools, educational social-networking tools like edmodo, IWBs and mobile devices including mobile phones, iPods and netbooks/laptops.)
o Collection of student scores based on generic formative and summative assessments using explicit marking criteria (for example quizzes, essay-style extended responses and group presentations) as well as student work samples.
o Interviews with students and classroom teachers.
o Examination of a variety of educational documents and artifacts used during each ‘trial’.

Significance of the research:

Evidence to suggest that PBL, assisted by ICT leads to increased student engagement and better performance on learning outcomes because:

o As teaching progresses throughout the 21st century, ICT is likely to become increasingly involved in the classroom environment.
o With the increasing involvement of ICT in the classroom, it is reasonable to assume an imminent move away from traditional teacher-centred pedagogy. This transition may progress at different rates in different places, however as the use of technology becomes widespread, older teaching methods may become less relevant.
o If PBL is found to increase student engagement and learning outcomes, in assistance with ICT it might suggest that PBL is a good student-centred candidate for pedagogy in the 21st.

Ethical considerations:

At present there is no real evidence to suggest that exposure to any of the teaching methods proposed as part of this study will adversely effect (or unfairly advantage) students. If this study is to be carried out in an external schooling environment informed consent would be required from students’ parents, the school executive and relevant education authority.

A template of a consent notice should be generated and canvassed to target schools. Direct contact should be made with the relevant education authority initially and then directed to the appropriate school’s executive. Investigation into current and relevant school policies relating to studies within a school setting will need to be carried out.

Timetable for the research:

March – April/May: Meet with supervisor to discuss plans for study and create general framework of the research method to be used. Conduct literature review.

May-July: Develop questionnaires, PBL unit and resources, canvass schools, apply for ethics approval. Continue literature review/research.

August-October: Conduct Study 1a (teaching poetry using traditional teacher-centred pedagogy to Cohort 1) and Study 1b (teaching poetry using a technology-assisted Project Based Learning approach to Cohort 2).

November – January: Analyse data from study. Consider possible reasons for results and alternative methods that can answer any additional questions that may arise.

January – May: Plan additional studies and/or write-up study as research paper. Seek publication of research.

Anticipated problems and limitations:

The greatest challenge for this study will be accessing the appropriate cohort of students. Ideally the study will include more than two classes of students – the control and the experimental group – both of whom will be exposed to matched or equivalent teaching environments. Methodological challenges to this study might arise from the need to match samples or at least give equivalent treatment to Exposed to similar or as close to possible as identical teaching environment (same teacher or two teachers using very similar teaching styles in very similar environments) this will help to ensure the effects measured in the study come from the exposure to the independent variable (PBL) and minimise the influence of extraneous variables such as different teaching styles, rapport with students or learning environments.

Barron, B. J. (1998). Doing with understanding: lessons from research on problem and project based learning. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 7, 271-311.
Chai, C. S., & Lim, C. P. (2011). The internet and teacher education: traversing between the digitized world and schools. Internet and Higher Education, 12, 3-9.
ConorCusack. (n.d.). Project-Based Learning | Edutopia. K-12 Education & Learning Innovations with Proven Strategies that Work | Edutopia. Retrieved May 9, 2011, from
Formative Assessment and Next-Generation Assessment Systems: Are We Losing an Opportunity?. (n.d.). The Council of Chief State School Officers. Retrieved May 9, 2011, from
Harriman, S. S. (2007) ‘It’s like learning in 3D’: online project-based learning in schools.
Unpublished thesis, University of Technology, Sydney.
Muniandy, B., Mohamad, R., Fook, F. S., & Idrus, R. M. (2009). Technology application in project-based learning. Journal of Communication and Computer, 6(12), 74-84.
Retallack, J., Spahr, J (2007). ‘Stages of encounter with a difficult text’. Poetry and pedagogy. New York: Palgrave MacMillan
Thornburg, D. D. (2001). Campfires in cyberspace: primordial metaphors for learning in the 21st century.. Ed at a Distance, 15(6), 1-8.


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