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Engaging pre‐tertiary students with low English literacy using online technologies


Guenther, John and Johnson, Paula, Engaging pre‐tertiary students with low English literacy using online technologies, Proceedings of the AUCEA 2010 National Conference, 5‐7 July 2010, University of Tasmania, Launceston, pp. 1-10. (2010) [Non Refereed Conference Paper]

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UTAS has for a number of years offered people without adequate tertiary entry requirements a preparatory program (called UPP, or University Preparation Program) that facilitates entry into a number of undergraduate courses. A large proportion of students participating in UPP come from a family background where study at university is not the norm. On the north‐west coast of Tasmania, where UPP was first offered in 1996, the proportion of people with tertiary qualifications is about half the national average and this is reflected in low year 12 retention levels. More recently, in the south of the State, a number of students entering UPP come from refugee backgrounds where English is spoken as another language (typically third or fourth). Both cohorts of students when confronted with distance learning face many challenges as they struggle to come to terms with academic culture. Once they are engaged in their learning, they tend to continue on and complete. If they fail to engage early on in their UPP studies, they tend to drop out fairly quickly. While there have been many success stories from UPP, the critics point to high attrition rates - typically in the order of 50 per cent.

Many students are attracted by the flexibility - among a number of reasons - inherent in online course delivery. For this group of students though, engagement processes must be intentional, supportive and understanding of their individual (sometimes traumatic) backgrounds. For engagement to occur, teaching and learning resources and practices must be of a high standard. The authors of this paper pose the question: ‘Is an improvement in online teaching and learning resources and strategies linked to increased engagement, and does this then lead to improved retention?’. The paper reports on findings of a trial conducted in 2009, designed to test a number of online teaching and learning approaches as a response to these questions.

The results of the trial suggest that carefully chosen resources will work to engage low English literacy students. However, the resources must be backed up with flexible, responsive and understandable support as well as teaching and learning strategies designed to connect students with each other and with tutors so that the learning is both interactive and human. The findings suggest that there is a need for a more intentional online teaching and learning strategy and the need for built in evaluation to gather evidence about what works best. The project team in UPP have developed an implementation plan to further extend the trial to other units within UPP. An evaluation framework has also been developed. The intent of the team is to increase the quality of the online learning experience for all students but, significantly for the group of students who struggle the most, deliver teaching and learning in an environment that encourages success.

The paper describes the trial and its findings and goes on to discuss the learnings that have emerged. It considers implications for UPP and UTAS more generally, as it attempts to attract, engage and more importantly retain students from culturally diverse and low English literacy backgrounds.

Item Details

Item Type:Non Refereed Conference Paper
Keywords:pre-tertiary, literacy, cultural diversity online learning, online delivery, engagement
Research Division:Education
Research Group:Education systems
Research Field:Higher education
Objective Division:Education and Training
Objective Group:Schools and learning environments
Objective Field:Equity and access to education
UTAS Author:Guenther, John (Dr John Guenther)
UTAS Author:Johnson, Paula (Ms Paula Johnson)
ID Code:101957
Year Published:2010
Deposited By:Centre for University Pathways and Partnerships
Deposited On:2015-07-21
Last Modified:2015-07-21
Downloads:1 View Download Statistics

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