The Collaborative Design of Learning, Meaning and Engagement with Students in the Middle Years: Practices, Interactions and Artefacts

Year: 2016

Author: Quinn, Sarah

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Transformative change in the middle years of schooling has been described as an unfinished endeavour; a condition exacerbated by the growing standardisation of curriculum, pedagogy and assessment in Australian schools. Although a long history of learning theory, research and practice espouses the benefits of social, collaborative and intellectually demanding approaches for students, the efforts of educators to implement these pedagogies and practices tends to be constrained in the current educational climate. However, there are opportunities for innovation and creativity within these constraints. This presentation will illustrate the collective learning structures, practices, interactions and artefacts created by educators and students, who worked collaboratively to generate innovative approaches to learning design, whilst still meeting policy regulations in the middle years. The participants included four classroom teachers and 86 students from across year levels and subject disciplines. The research approach was a critically pragmatic mixed methodology, incorporating a case study, participatory design methods and critical ethnography. Drawing on theories of transformation, two forms of design, agency and constructivist learning theories, the analysis followed the generation of a new social process for teaching and learning, collaborative learning design (CLD). Seven iterations of CLD were constructed, implemented and evaluated across the four participating classrooms over two terms. These iterations explored the institutional, interpersonal and discursive changes made to classroom social structures, events and practices, with the aim of fostering participation, collaboration and deep engagement in learning. Sources for data collection included interviews, observations, an online student survey, co-design workshops and the collection of documents and design artefacts. The data were analysed through survey analysis and a layered model of Positive Discourse Analysis. Reconstructive analysis then identified the underlying social structures, events and practices in CLD which could have applications to other classrooms and contexts. The implications of the research indicate that efforts to generate transformational change in education must attend to developing resilient teacher and student agency in all aspects of the learning design process. The unique identities of educators and students, their institutional structures designed to scaffold the co-construction of knowledge and meaning, attention to the classroom discourse, action and interactions that emerge; are collective resources and are all essential for facilitating deep engagement and powerful learning. By valuing these resources and drawing on a broad view of learning as knowing, being and doing, this presentation contributes to knowledge of the possibilities for designing new ways of teaching and learning with students in the middle years.