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					Using Blended learning to help motivate students
Diana Mackie, Napier University

Introduction A sound foundation in mathematics and statistics is essential for the study of sport and exercise science. In the second and third years of the degree course at Napier University, students study biomechanics for which knowledge of trigonometry and vector algebra are required, in addition to further statistics. From the students‟ perspective mathematics is often one of their weakest and least favourite subjects. At the commencement of their course they may not realise its relevance to the study of sport science. The result is poor motivation, often coupled with a lack of confidence in their own ability, leading to poor attendance at classes, a lack of engagement with the material, insufficient time spent consolidating and practising skills and, hence, poor results. This paper considers fresh approaches introduced to the delivery of the first year mathematics module with the aim of improving student motivation and engagement. Improving motivation Motivation depends on various factors, both intrinsic and extrinsic. Extrinsic elements such as goals, conception of ability and interest can be influenced by the curriculum and by the teaching and learning approaches adopted. These factors are discussed further here. Students have reasons for embarking on a particular course. They may be motivated by the academic award itself or by the career prospects that the qualification will open up to them. Ensuring that the mathematics content is relevant and tailored to their needs should help convince students that successful completion of the module is an important step towards their goal. As with many courses there is a wide variation in the prior mathematical knowledge of students entering the sport and exercise science degree, the minimum requirement being a general level pass at Standard grade (a Scottish qualification roughly equivalent to GCSE grade C). Many have a poor grasp of basic algebra and geometry. “I just can‟t do maths” is a typical comment from students who have not performed well in this subject at school. It is important to adopt strategies designed to overcome this perceived lack of ability. Innovative approaches to teaching and learning together with relevant applications are likely to capture the interest of students. Research studies

have shown that the use of ICT has the ability to engage and motivate students (Cox et al, 2004). Passey et al (2004) found that appropriate use of online learning     is more stimulating and student-centred than traditional teaching; results in students staying longer on task; increases self-confidence; gives students more responsibility for their learning.

Factors affecting motivation were examined in relation to the mathematics module for the sport and exercise science course and a number of changes were introduced in 2004-05 as a result, including:     more relevant module content additional support some changes to the timing and weighting of assessments more use of ICT

Blended learning approach A virtual learning environment, WebCT, was introduced at Napier University in 2002. Staff have been encouraged to use WebCT to make resources available to students both on and off campus. For this module, WebCT is used to facilitate a multi-faceted approach to the learning and teaching, incorporating both computer-based and traditional face-to-face methods. It is hoped that this approach will enable a wider range of student needs and learning styles to be met. The features of this blended learning approach are illustrated in figure 1.

Lectures sss

Tutorial classes

Continuous assessment

Blended learning approach

Use of VLE as an information source

Computerbased classes

Additional resources

Figure 1

WebCT is used both to complement and supplement face-to-face teaching. As a source of module-related information and key handouts, it gives students the opportunity to obtain materials and information which they have missed. It also provides links to additional resources for those who need extra support, typically Mathcentre leaflets and Teach-yourself booklets. Computer-based classes Students access the worksheets for computer-based classes through WebCT. At this weekly class, held in a computer laboratory, students use a range of interactive websites for online mathematics and SPSS for statistics. There are so many Internet sites for learning mathematics online that it was not considered necessary to create any new material. The worksheets contain details of the work to be covered and links to a range of websites selected for the quality of their interactive exercises and an approach similar to that adopted in lectures and handouts. The topics covered include fractions, percentages, algebraic manipulation and trigonometry. Online learning enables students to work at a pace that suits them and spend more time on areas where they feel they need more practice. Students who are reluctant to spend time working through sheets of paper-based exercises are more willing to tackle online exercises and self assessment, encouraged by immediate feedback and the different medium. The use of the statistical computing package SPSS enables students to work with real data sets relevant to their field of study and to produce high quality plots and charts. More time can then be spent interpreting the graphical and numeric output generated. Lectures and Tutorials Discussions with lecturers in other disciplines such as biomechanics and exercise physiology helped clarify when, where and how mathematics is used in the different areas of the course. Many more relevant applications have thus been introduced in lectures, often using examples supplied by the lecturer who covers that topic. Computer demonstrations have also been used in lectures to enable students to visualise mathematics and use dynamic images to make connections between algebraic and geometric or graphical representations of objects. For example, the meaning of „m‟ in the equation of a straight line „y=mx+c‟ is more easily understood and more likely to be remembered if the link between the symbolic and visual forms is explored using a suitable computer program. Tutorials take the form of exercise classes with individual help available to those who need it. Tutorial exercise sheets are also made available on WebCT. For some longer or more difficult applications students are encouraged to work together as a small group. Additionally, a weekly drop-in maths help session is available to all students.

Assessment Assessment is continuous and takes the form of three tests, one of which is linked to statistics coursework which must be submitted prior to the test. Minor changes were made to the timing and weighting of assessments in order to present them as a series of achievable hurdles. The first test is held quite early in the semester, allowing many students to achieve early success and, hence, increased confidence. Those who fail the first test are offered individual help and an opportunity to resit it two weeks later. However the weighting ensures that an overall pass cannot be achieved without a reasonable mark in the third test. Advantages of the virtual learning environment A virtual learning environment has many advantages for both students and staff. For students it offers „anytime, anywhere‟ access, from any computer linked to the Internet, through a single gateway to module information, resources and worksheets with links for online learning. WebCT is used for other modules on their course so they are familiar with it. The advantages for staff include an easy means of making module material and additional resources available online, thus helping to cater for a wide range of prior knowledge and ability. Student use of WebCT can be monitored through the tracking feature though not in very great detail. The first and last dates on which a student logged on are recorded and also the number of hits on resource pages. The assessment tool allows students to submit coursework online, with automatic acknowledgement, and enables the lecturer to feedback results and comments. Results Overall student performance improved slightly in comparison with the previous year. Although results for the first two tests were good, performance in the third test, covering vectors and trigonometry, was poorer. On reflection, more time needs to spent on these topics and it would be useful to locate more online resources. Attendance dropped considerably towards the end of the module and ways of combating this must be found. Student feedback, based on a module questionnaire, was generally positive and better than in previous years. The most frequent response to „What did you like most about the module?‟ was the computer-based classes and nobody commented adversely on this element. Several students enjoyed doing the statistics coursework. Equal numbers liked and disliked the statistics part of the course, whilst logarithms and vectors were unpopular and considered difficult by many. A few students still feel that they would benefit from more classes. At least 90% of students accessed the module on WebCT on more than one occasion, with the greatest number of hits being recorded for the computer worksheets. All of the nineteen recommended

Mathcentre leaflets were accessed by at least 3 students with an average of 8.6 hits per leaflet. Informal discussions with students revealed that some accessed and used online resources at home or from other off-campus sites when they had missed a class or for extra practice or revision. Conclusions Feedback relating to the computer-based classes suggests that the use of online learning did increase motivation for some students. Students used WebCT to access material they had missed, to download additional resources and for online learning. Students appreciated the inclusion of relevant examples but would like more of these. There is scope for improvement in the teaching of vector algebra in order to promote better understanding and performance in this area. More use of interactive online resources may help to achieve this but these have proved difficult to locate. More online self assessment would also help students to prepare for tests. A blended approach to learning mathematics, including ICT-based and traditional methods, can help lecturers cater for the wide diversity of students‟ prior learning, preferred learning styles and approaches to study which are typical in many service courses. References Passey, D, Rogers, C., Machell, J. and McHugh,G., (2004) The Motivational Effect of ICT on Pupils, University of Lancaster Cox, M.J., Abbott, C.,Webb, M.,Blakely, B.,Beauchamp, T. and Rhodes, V. (2004) ICT and Attainment: A Review of Research literature, Coventry and London: BECTA/DES


				
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