Utilising peer working groups to stimulate engagement of digital learning (for the most vulnerable pupils)
This area of research was chosen to find out ways of improving pupil engagement with digital learning. Since the move to online learning in January 2021 engagement had been poor, particularly with pupils in Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD) deciles 1-3. This was worrying, as poor engagement could hinder pupil achievement, and consequently attainment. Lack of engagement could be for reasons outside of the school’s control; however, it was important to find strategies to remedy this situation. There is a responsibility for schools and teachers to reduce inequalities and obstacles between pupils in school and remotely (Marcus, 2016).
Improving attainment seemed relevant as closing the poverty-related attainment gap is high on the Scottish Government’s agenda, with the implementation of the Scottish Attainment Challenge in 2015. Improving pupil engagement and attainment was also a high priority on the school’s improvement plan, with two thirds of pupils coming from areas in SIMD 1-3. Therefore, this investigation had the potential for direct positive impact. One strategy known to stimulate pupil engagement and attainment was collaborative learning. Various research has linked collaborative learning to improvements in attainment. Collaborative learning can be defined as an approach where learners work on a task together (MacLeod et al., 2015; OECD, 2015). Each learner contributes to, and benefits from others’ involvement in the activity.
Johnson & Johnson (1989) and Pantiz (1999) list over fifty benefits of collaborative learning, summarising them into four main categories: social, psychological, academic and assessment. Academic benefits included improvements to classroom results, appropriate problem-solving techniques being modelled, increases in student motivation, and raised attainment through shared learning goals. Furthermore, research by the EFF (2016) found very strong evidence that the impact of collaborative learning is consistently positive, but pupils must support each other and work together, encouraging lower achieving pupils to participate. This is the element of collaborative learning that is vital in raising attainment and will be at the core of this inquiry. With this in mind, collaborative learning applied in a remote digital setting could lead to improvements in engagement and thus, attainment.
The first aim of this inquiry was to explore the potential for collaborative peer groups organised through Microsoft Teams to encourage participation and increased engagement with remote learning.
The second aim was to investigate the potential for collaborative peer groups to be used as a tool to raise engagement and attainment for pupils in SIMD 1-3.