Utilising peer working groups to stimulate engagement of digital learning (for the most vulnerable pupils)
Nationwide school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic have created an unprecedented level of activity in the online learning space (Dhawan, 2020). Despite the rapid developments in technology in making online learning an important tool to continue to maximise pupil learning, there are still many challenges from learners’ issues, educator’s issues and content issues which make it a ‘sub-optimal substitution’ (McBrien et al., 2009; Dhawan, 2020). The most poignant challenge educators face is to engage students in the teaching-learning process. A magnitude of studies has presented concerns over the inadequate student engagement through online learning and thus, a move towards online learning has highlighted the importance of educators to offer meaningful learning experiences.
Donlevy strongly states that the absence of peer interaction can negatively affect some aspects of the learning process with a study by Rovai, Wighting, and Lui suggests that online learning creates a “weaker sense of connectedness and belonging” (p.4). Thus, evidence suggests that providing opportunities for pupils to interact with each other can improve learning outcomes through an increase in engagement. Therefore, teachers should consider the adoption of teaching strategies which encourage and support pupils to interact together (NASUWT, 2021). Further projection of this by Wbtsystems.com (2021), highlighted that engagement increases when students feel like they ‘belong’ and are ‘part of something’ with like-minded people. Group work presents the opportunity to discuss coursework, share ideas, and most importantly become more engaged.
Despite the prospect that group work has on increased engagement, there are considerable differences in the levels of pupil engagement in online learning, particularly amongst the most disadvantaged pupils. This supports a growing evidence base highlighting the risk of the attainment gap widening as a result of this pandemic due to the financial burden of technology (Van Lancker & Parolin, 2020). Therefore, as a group we decided to investigate what impact peer working groups would have on the engagement of pupils, particularly those pupils residing in Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD) 1-3. Furthermore, the provision to increase engagement was the chosen research topic as the School Improvement Plan highlights digital learning to be a priority with pedagogy established across all stages of the curriculum to engage learners through high quality learning experiences. Therefore, in line with this, we hope to develop our practice to support attainment through enhanced engagement with online learning. Further, through a professional discussion we acknowledged that pupils are more likely to participate when there is an increase in accountability and belonging. Thus, through implementing peer working groups to complete revision projects during the online learning period, we wanted to discover the impact on increasing the engagement levels of pupils within the class.
The aim of this enquiry was to explore the potential impact that peer working groups has on increasing engagement with online learning, with a particular focus on those residing in SIMD 1-3.