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An ongoing tension exists in education between the established and the progressive, conformity and innovation, and recent years have seen practices transformed. Approaches to teaching based upon theories derived from, for instance, gestalt psychology, psychoanalysis, cognitive psychology and brain study, have undergone a paradigm shift with emphasis moving from teaching and towards learning. This reconception of education has centred upon the ways in which we construct and deliver instructional materials; for many years instructional design was largely based upon theories of behaviourism underpinned by an objectivist epistemology. Recent years have seen a sea-change in attitudes, with didactic teaching methods losing ground to more progressive models, such as constructivism, which view knowledge as developmental, internally constructed, non-objective and socially and culturally mediated.
Many teaching innovations have occurred simultaneously with advances in technology, and whilst it is not a given that innovation must involve technological change, it is undeniable that the technological developments of recent years have boosted innovative initiatives and made new methods of teaching possible. Research into areas such as neuroscience have suggested new ways of teaching and learning, whilst ICT tools (such as social software) have fostered the development of constructivist ideals in the classroom and extended the possibilities for collaboration and cooperation. In these ways education is now, more than ever before, interacting with science, technology and research. However, simply introducing technology into the classroom is not, of itself, innovative. Bates (1995) recognised that technology is often used merely as an addendum to conventional teaching; such teaching continues to follow the traditional pattern of apprenticeship learning and remains largely uninfluenced by researches into, for instance, learning psychology or other areas concerned with how learners function.
21st Century challenges require co-disciplinary approaches and educational systems must be capable of developing individuals who can achieve the competencies they need in order succeed in a rapidly changing world that values enterprise, proactiveness and self-reliance. In practical terms this may require more innovative, student-centred approaches to education utilising formal, informal as well as unformal practices in both vertical and horizontal structures. When such innovations are implemented, it is important to know that they bring improvement and not merely change. Advocates of the learner-centred approach have reasoned that a knowledge of how learning occurs should inform instructional practice (Bransford, Brown and Cockling, 1999; Mayer, 2009) and recent studies (Anderman and Wolters, 2006; Pressley and Harris, 2006) have shown that students' cognitive strategies and motivational beliefs are key contributors to learning performance. Teachings' primary aim must be, therefore, to enhance learners' cognitive skills and improve their motivation. In terms of cognitive performance, whilst behaviourist instruction focuses upon ‘drill and practice' and memorisation, constructivist approaches may contribute to learners' deeper cognitive information processing, and this depth of understanding has been highlighted as one of the primary aims of constructivist-orientated instructional reforms (Mayer, 2004; Harris and Alexander, 1998). The emphasis difference between behaviourist and constructivist approaches aligns with the distinction, extant in much of the cognitive skills literature (see, for example, Dahlin and Watkins, 2000; Elliott, McGregor and Gable, 1999; Entwistle and Ramsden, 1983; Graham and Golan, 1991), between surface and deep cognitive processing. Instructional practices are also likely to have motivational consequences for learning and the potential benefits of constructivist approaches have been discussed by various authors (Blumenfeld, 1992; Hickey, 1997; Pintrich and Schunk, 2002).
In this spirit, this paper will seek to evaluate an innovation that has been initiated in a prison class. The innovation is a business simulation (SimVenture) recently introduced to a business studies class and it will be assessed for its ability to enhance learning and increase motivation through the creation of a more constructivist approach to teaching and learning. Whilst mainstream FE practice has embraced constructivist ideals for some time, diverse factors have combined to make prison education one of the last remaining bastions of behaviourist, didactic practice. This innovation is therefore considered important for its potential affordance of a more learner-centred approach and will be evaluated accordingly.
I began working in prison education three years ago and during this time I have worked in five prisons across the south of England. Prison educators face a range of barriers to effective teaching engendered, in part, by the prison regime which is strictly enforced, rigid and unaccommodating, and by a cohort containing large numbers with either little interest in, or innate hostility towards, education.
Prison education is poorly funded and teachers must deliver with few of the technological tools that their mainstream counterparts take for granted. Introducing new resources requires approval by the regime, which can be a long and complex process, and internet access is unavailable within the majority of prison education departments (House of Commons Report, 2005).
Consequently, it is perhaps unsurprising that many teachers continue to rely on ‘chalk and talk' methods (Education and Skills Committee, 2005). For those inmate-students for whom “the classroom has in the past been absolutely awful and appalling” (Wilson, 2005, cited in Education and Skills Committee, 2005, p.48) this approach may reignite past feelings of inadequacy, leading to the classroom duplicating previous experiences and becoming again a place of frustration and humiliation (Foster, 1998, cited in Bayliss, 2003, p.162).
Knowles (1984) believed that traditional pedagogic practices may create tension, resistance and feelings of resentment in adult learners. In contrast, student-centred methods, such as andragogy and constructivism, recognise the importance of learner autonomy and typically focus on creating a climate which fosters learning through problem-centred, contextual approaches. Both andragogy and constructivism are considered important to this evaluation and will now be considered.
The importance of constructivism and andragogy.
Constructivist learning theory recognises the necessity of constructing interpretations, being cognisant of multiple perspectives and becoming aware of, as well as able to manipulate, the process of knowledge construction itself. Constructivism proposes that our world-views are not stable but rather are in a state of flux as we build upon previous experiences, these changes signify learning and support the understanding that we are never inert, but rather are always learning and interacting (Kelly, 1970).
Learning occurs as students construct knowledge by using what they already know to make sense of new experiences (Brandt, 1997) and this is achieved through the development of mental models that are utilised to assimilate experiences into new declarative or structural knowledge and further expanded models. Both constructivist and cognitivist theories propose that learners employ mental models to assist in the interpretation/incorporation of experiences and the subsequent construction of knowledge. Constructivists believe that concepts can be consolidated through interactions with the environment, and this may be especially efficacious when carefully facilitated experiences confront learners with variations or conflict enabling them to adapt, reshape and strengthen their mental models, and thus construct knowledge. Consequently, experiences should do more than simply strengthen mental models through, for instance, repetitive applications of skill, but rather should expose the student to a mélange - similarity, dissimilarity and challenges - that engender testing and adjustment of mental models.
Jonassen (1998) suggests that these experiences should not be overly defined but instead should be ill-structured to encourage learners to seek solutions to problems.
Kolb (1984) considered that knowledge is created through the transformation of these experiences and that there is a sequence to this process. Individuals first undergo an experience that provides a basis for reflective observations. These reflections and observations may then be assimilated into abstract concepts that can be actively tested in new experiences.
Kolb (ibid.) explained that students involved in experiential learning must be able to:
“involve themselves fully, openly, and without bias in new experiences; they must be able to observe and reflect on these experiences from many perspectives; they must be able to create concepts that integrate their observations into logically sound theories; and they must be able to use these theories to make decisions and solve problems” (p.236).
Situated learning theory contends that since any learning activity is context-dependent (Agre and Chapman, 1987) it should occur within realistic settings; Brown, Collins and Duguid (1989) believe that meaning can be seen as rooted in, and indexed by, experience and that all learning should be embedded in contexts that are practical, meaningful and relevant to real life: “To learn to use tools as practitioners use them, a student, like an apprentice, must enter the community and its culture.” (p.33).
Knowles's (1984) andragogy also acknowledges the importance of learning occurring in settings that closely match the complexity of the real-world, considering that adults prefer learning situations that are problem-centred, life-related and meaningful to them. Knowles recognised that motivational beliefs are pivotal to successful adult learning, and while constructivist environments may offer affordances for deep learning to occur, this is only useful if students choose to engage with instruction.
Some authors (e.g. Biggs, 1991; Iran-Nejad, 1987) believe that the cognitive processes involved in deep learning may, themselves, foster an increase in motivation, while others (e.g. Prosser and Trigwell, 1999) consider that greater motivation may engender the development of more effective cognitive processes. Resnick (1987) mooted that students are more likely to engage with learning activities that connect with real-life situations, believing that such activities are likely to encourage students' natural curiosity and thus enhance learning. Iran-Nejad (1987) suggests that it is the processes of meaning-making involved in such activities, and the deep-learning that results, which fosters this increase in engagement, and Biggs (1999) agrees that the processes involved in the discovery of underlying meaning provoke positive responses and so promote motivation. However, Prosser and Trigwell (1999) consider that it is the initial arousal of interest which motivates students and encourages them to adopt effective cognitive strategies “such as making the task coherent with their own experience; looking for patterns and underlying principles” (p.91).
Keller (1987), in considering the major influences on learning motivation, also proposed that a student's attention must be aroused and sustained by instructional stimuli in order to encourage effective strategies such as information-seeking behaviour. His ‘ARCS' model, although concerned with learning motivation rather than knowledge construction, has many similarities with Jonassen's (1994) work on the development of constructivist learning environments. Whilst Jonassen's work is concerned, primarily, with ways in which effective constructivist environments can enhance learning, Keller (2006) points out that “instruction cannot be effective if it is not appealing to people”. Since this paper contends that learning and motivation are inextricably linked, and seeks to assess SimVenture accordingly, both Jonassen and Keller's models will form the basis for an evaluation tool which will now be detailed.
SimVenture will be assessed for its ability to promote more learner-centric, constructivist practices in the belief that these approaches are more likely to engage inmate-students with their learning than the didactic techniques currently employed. A semi-structured interview with open-ended questions will be conducted with the teacher who has implemented the innovation to discover whether SimVenture has motivated students and enhanced their learning. As previously stated, the works of Jonassen (1994) and Keller (1987, 2006) are considered relevant to this assessment and their models will form the basis for the interview protocol to be used.
Keller's (2006) ARCS model is widely used as a conceptual framework for addressing motivational issues in instructional development but is also relevant in evaluating existing instruction (Huang, Diefes-Dux, Imbrie, Daku and Kallimani, 2004). The motivational design model is founded upon theories of expectancy value, reinforcement and cognitive evaluation and seeks to explain the relationships between effort, performance and satisfaction. The first factor, Attention, refers to the response of the learner towards instructional stimuli; Keller considers it important that effective stimuli are extant at the beginning of and throughout the whole of the learning process and identifies three attention strategies that relate to interest arousal:
- C Perception arousal - suggests the use of novel or uncertain events to arouse interest. As Jonassen (1998) posited this is likely to evoke a problem-solving response in students.
- C Inquiry arousal - stimulates information-seeking behaviour by posing questions or creating a problem to solve.
- C Variability - maintains learner interest by varying instructional elements.
Prosser and Trigwell (1999) consider that interest arousal encourages students to adopt effective cognitive strategies, therefore the first item of the evaluation tool will be:
“Does the innovation create problems or pose questions that surprise the learners? Does the experience vary or can students become inured to it?”
The second factor of ARCS, Relevance, is founded upon theories of constructivism and andragogy, and links to Jonassen's model in considering that experiences should be relevant to learners and assist them in associating previous learning experiences with instructional materials. The materials should therefore relate to the learner's interests and goals and should provide:
- C Familiarity - using concrete language and concepts/examples that relate to the learner's values and experiences.
- C Goal orientation - making the objectives of the instruction explicit and setting goals for accomplishment.
- C Motive watching - using instructional strategies that are aligned with student's motive profiles.
Jonassen, in common with other constructivists, considers that effective environments should present the learner with authentic tasks representative of the natural complexity found in the real world. Further, Knowles (1984) proposed that adult learners are more motivated by experiences that are life-related and meaningful to them. For these reasons, the next four evaluative items will be:
“Does the innovation present learners with problems or tasks that they can relate to?”
“Are the tasks of sufficient complexity - do they mirror the real-world?”
“Are the objectives and purposes of the instruction obvious to the learners, are there goals set, and are there clear methods for successfully achieving them?”
“Does the instruction provide learners with what they want or need to know? Does it align with their personal interests?”
Confidence is the third ARCS factor. Von Glaserfeld (1989) states that learning motivation is strongly dependent upon the student's own confidence in their potential for learning. In order to be motivated learners must believe that they have a reasonable chance of success before attempting a task.
Keller believed that learners are motivated to learn when any challenge is balanced so that the process is neither so easy that the learner loses interest nor so difficult that success does not seem possible. Additionally, Huang et al. (2004) contend that meaningful experiences sustain confidence development during learning. Instruction should therefore be cognisant of and provide:
- Learning requirements - often students may have low confidence because they do not know what is expected of them, informing them of the learning/performance requirements and how these will be assessed allows students to evaluate the probability of success.
- C Success opportunities - providing meaningful and challenging opportunities for effective and successful learning. This motivates students to strive for greater success.
- C Personal control - being successful will improve confidence and boost motivation only if the learner attributes the success to their own efforts or abilities. If they believe that success is due to other factors, for example lack of challenge or luck, then increased confidence will not result. Personal control can be enhanced by, for example, allowing learners to move through the instruction at their own pace and choose their own assessment timings.
This leads to the questions:
“Is what is expected of the students obvious to them? Is it clear how they will be assessed and how they can succeed?”
“Are the instructional challenges complex enough to engage the learners' interest? Are there any challenges that are too difficult for them and if so how do you overcome this?”
“When the students do experience success, is it obvious to them that this has been achieved through their own efforts/abilities? Are they able to move through the instruction at their own pace?”
Satisfaction is the final factor in the ARCS model. Satisfaction strategies must consistently provide learners with intrinsic and extrinsic reinforcements for effort. When learners are able to practice newly acquired skills or knowledge and receive feedback/reinforcements that sustain the desired behaviour they are more likely to have positive attitudes and remain motivated. Whilst behaviourists consider success itself as motivating and emphasise the importance of extrinsic rewards gained through goal setting and achievement, constructivists place greater importance on the intrinsic rewards that learners gain as information-seekers and problem-solvers. Satisfaction is increased by:
- Intrinsic reinforcement - that supports and encourages enjoyment of the experience. Students are likely to be intrinsically motivated when they can apply what they have learned as this helps to affirm new levels of competency.
- Extrinsic rewards - provide congratulatory feedback for performance that matches the success criteria. These reinforcement messages are employed to sustain motivation.
- Equity - requires that uniform standards and consequences are employed for task completion. Students will become demotivated if assessment and feedback methods are not consistent.
This prompts the questions:
“Do students enjoy the experience? Are they able to apply their newly acquired knowledge to other experiences?”
“Are students provided with feedback that encourages them, does this feedback match the criteria for success?”
“Is the instruction fair? Are the assessments and feedback consistent?”
Finally, Jonassen's work (1994) forms the basis for the last elements of the evaluation tool. Jonassen considers that effective learning can be facilitated through learning environments that foster reflective practice, focus on knowledge construction rather than reproduction, and enable both context- and content-dependent learning. This leads to the questions:
“What affordance does the innovation provide for reflection? How does this reflection occur?”
“Does the innovation allow learners to develop competencies as well as acquiring factual knowledge?”
“Are the learners encouraged to gain and demonstrate understandings rather than reproducing existing knowledge?”
SimVenture was introduced into the business studies class at HMP Albany at the beginning of December, 2009. The class consists of an average of ten male students studying for OCR's Levels One and Two in Business Enterprise. SimVenture is a business simulation that allows students to establish and manage their own virtual company. The following evaluation utilises the tool previously detailed as the basis for a semi-structured interview with Mr. Kenneth Ritchie, the class teacher who has introduced the innovation.
Questions were sent to Mr. Ritchie in advance of the interview, which was carried out face-to-face on 22/03/2010 and lasted for approximately one hour. The interview is used as the basis for an assessment of the effectiveness of the innovation in fostering a more student-centred, constructivist approach as detailed previously.
This evaluation begins with a consideration of how SimVenture arouses and maintains learners' attention and curiosity. Whether, as previously discussed, deep learning leads to increased motivation, or whether increased motivation leads to deeper learning, it is apparent that an effective learning environment must engage a learner's interest if they are to be motivated to begin the process of exploration, experimentation, construction and reflection.
SimVenture provides a range of features designed to engage learners' attention. The opening screen provides a rich simulation of an office (see below) which contains many interactive features.
In addition, SimVenture provides scenario briefings utilising ‘flash' videos that captures the students' attention, and ‘walkthroughs' for each component of the game. Students begin the game with a set amount of money that must be used to start the business and from the outset they are faced with challenges - Mr. Ritchie says that “all of the decisions they make have consequences”. Students' surprise is generated by the use of unexpected events (such as fire, burglary, theft) which Mr. Ritchie says they find “quite challenging”, and interest is maintained by a range of tasks that build upon previously learned knowledge whilst incorporating the unexpected. Additionally, each time the learners start a new game, fresh data is generated so that variety is sustained and students remain engaged.
Gaining and maintaining students' interest is important, but as Keller (2006) points out “...instructional materials can be very appealing without being effective.” (no p.n.).
Keller considers that learners need to be clear about the purposes/objectives of instruction and how goals can be achieved. Mr. Ritchie believes that the aims of the instruction are made clear by SimVenture, but reinforces this by providing students with a handout to ensure understanding. A scenario briefing at the beginning of the instruction explains to students what is expected of them and makes the goals of the instruction, and methods for achieving them, clear. Assessment methods are also explained and Mr. Ritchie ensures that students understand how this will work.
Mr Ritchie was slightly concerned that new users can find the interface daunting; this is an obvious problem since if learners are unsure how to proceed they may quickly become demotivated. However, what could have been a negative has actually proved to be a positive since Mr. Ritchie says that more able students seem happy to show novices how the interface works. This is a good example of social constructivism and suggests that the innovation is fostering a cooperative environment where better skilled peers are enculturating their lesser skilled colleagues (Driver, Asoko, Leach, Mortimer and Scott, 1994). This social constructivism is further evidenced by the experienced students' willingness to share their game play expertise with beginners. Mr. Ritchie says that while the simulation's tutorials explain to students how they can succeed, “...other students are happy to help the beginners out and explain to them how they can do well at SimVenture”. Vygotsky (1965) viewed learning as grounded in a socio-cultural context and considered the learner's social interactions as critically important for cognitive development. Through explaining their learning to others, students' own learning is strengthened, and novices gain cultural tools through their involvement in cultural activities. Optimally, this can lead to a situation in which “all participants learn with, and from, each other...” (Wells, 1999, p.xii)
Whilst this cooperative learning may be inherently motivating, interest in learning is further ameliorated by instruction that students consider as relevant to their needs. Andragogical theory holds that adults need to know the reasons for learning something if they are to be motivated to learn it, and Keller (2006) asserts that instructional strategies should align with students' own motives. Mr. Ritchie believes that SimVenture achieves this alignment by providing students with opportunities to practice and gain skills that they perceive as being useful. Self-employment is considered an attractive option by some inmate-students, and Mr. Ritchie believes that SimVenture is highly effective in preparing learners for this. Additionally, he points out that all of the students are attending classes because they have an interest in business, and SimVenture provides them with “...far more background and knowledge than the course requires.” The use of ‘real-world' problems, therefore, provides students with the means to practice skills that they consider relevant and also enhances learning potential.
As well as being concerned with relevance, adult learners are also motivated by being presented with problems that make sense to them - that are life-related and meaningful (Knowles, 1984). Mr. Ritchie explains that the inmate-students' first task in SimVenture is to manage a start-up budget and “budgeting is something that we are all used to and having to spend a budget wisely is also something that students understand.” SimVenture's use of real-world situations, which Mr. Ritchie describes as “very real-life”, not only motivates but also enhances learning. Driscoll (1994), in common with other constructivists, believes that effective learning environments should incorporate authentic activities since these activities allow learners to perform the same type of complex problem-solving required by real-life situations. Through such activities, new meanings can be constructed as previously learned principles are applied to real-world experiences (Spigner-Littles and Anderson, 1999) and assimilation occurs as new experiences are aligned with existing internal models of the world.
Piaget (1977) proposed that when we encounter situations or experiences that conflict with our accepted way of thinking a state of imbalance, or disequilibrium is created and our mental models must then be altered to restore balance. This is achieved by associating the new information with what is already known, assimilating it into our existing knowledge. Thus we develop ways of understanding or construing the world founded upon our experiences. This meaning-making can be can be enhanced within a constructivist environment that emphasises a process- rather than product-oriented approach. SimVenture achieves this, in part, through a focus upon smaller tasks which when completed and understood furnish students with a cognisance of larger concepts. The process-oriented approach focuses upon the skills and strategies involved in producing some final product rather than on the product itself and this provides a context in which new ideas/experiences can be explored. In this way a series of supportive, related activities allow ideas to evolve in the learner's mind and this enables them to develop greater reasoning skills as they cultivate ideas for themselves.
The emphasis upon process rather than product is supported by SimVenture's focus on a problem-centred rather than content-oriented approach. Mr. Ritchie praises the way in which the simulation combines competency development with fact acquisition. Whilst knowledge acquisition remains an important objective, SimVenture affords the opportunity to actively apply this knowledge within a practical context. In contrast with behaviourist education, with knowledge acquisition as its imperative, a constructivist, competency-oriented approach gives greater emphasis to tasks, role-playing and problem-solving, thus enabling both content and context-dependent knowledge construction (Jonassen, 1994).
Simulations, such as SimVenture, may be ideal for this approach engendering, as they do, deep learning that occurs when experiences lead to understandings of the underlying concepts and principles involved that can then be related to prior knowledge and experience.
Both Thurman (1993) and Rieber (1996) discuss the potential of simulations for depth of processing and cognitive stimulation. However, the amelioration of cognitive processing is just one of the proposed benefits of using simulations in the classroom. Simulations are both learner-centred and learner-controlled and use real-world language, as a result they correspond in diverse ways with both communicative and constructivist theories through a process of active, student-centred involvement utilising authentic language. Mr. Ritchie praises SimVenture's use of ‘real' language which has, he says, led to students using business terms quite naturally and unselfconsciously within the classroom. Simulations are a powerful pedagogical tool for their ability to combine active involvement with knowledge construction, and within Mr Ritchie's class SimVenture has enabled authentic language to be situated within a context in which it might actually be used. In this way the simulation has allowed learners to have experiences and employ language that might otherwise be difficult or impossible to replicate within the classroom confines.
The language that students acquire through using SimVenture enhances both class discussions and the students' coursework. Mr. Ritchie says that there has been a marked improvement in students' written work since SimVenture was introduced and students now understand and use concepts much more fluently than they did previously. Part of this improvement has come, Mr. Ritchie says, through the students' enjoyment of using SimVenture. This enjoyment is fostered by the simulations ability to gain students' interest through activities that are challenging enough to be engaging without being so difficult as to be unachievable. As Keller (2006) has noted, gaining meaningful success is motivating for students, however if learners do find challenges too difficult Mr. Ritchie, the other students or SimVenture itself are able to offer support.
Mr. Ritchie supports students by spending time with them and demonstrating ways in which their performance within the simulation can be improved. This is a form of cognitive apprenticeship, and by using practices such as modelling and coaching Mr. Ritchie's approach supports Fitts and Posner's (1967) three stages of skill acquisition: The cognitive, associative and autonomous stages. By observing Mr. Ritchie modelling the skill the learner can identify relevant behaviours whilst developing a conceptual model of the procedures involved, the learner may then attempt to imitate the observed behaviours while Mr. Ritchie observes and provides coaching.
This coaching provides support at the most crucial stage - Vygotsky's (1978) ZPD - believed to be the area where fostered development can lead to the most rapid learning. The process of coaching is intended to promote the learner's own cognitive, affective and psychomotor learning skills, and as the learner becomes more skilled and develops autonomous learning strategies this support is gradually withdrawn.
Whilst modelling focuses upon the performance of the expert (including modelling of the performance as well as the thinking processes - behavioural and cognitive modelling), coaching focuses on the performance of the learner, destabilising mental models and provoking reflection.
Reflection plays a crucial role in this developmental process. Jonassen, Davidson, Collins, Campbell and Haag (1995) recognise a clear distinction between experiential and reflective knowledge. Kolb (1984) agrees, observing that experience alone cannot provide sufficient learning in some situations and in these instances experience must be combined with exercises that involve a creative processing of cognitions if meaningful learning is to result. SimVenture fosters reflection through diverse means; ‘demo' videos and ‘walkthroughs' give students the opportunity to reflect and think about strategies in advance of trying them out. During the simulation reflection is fostered through the use of reports that provide graphic representations of the consequences of decisions made, and by feedback from the virtual ‘business advisor' that provides advice and encouragement.
Mr. Ritchie considers that SimVenture's affordance of effective reflection is one of its best features and he describes the feedback that students receive as “excellent” commenting that it matches the criteria for success and is congratulatory and varied. He is particularly impressed by a feature called ‘notepad' which encourages students to record their reflections/observations and place these within the game. Mr. Ritchie comments that this “...encourages students to really think about what they are doing.” Employing tools such as this, which foster reflection and self-assessment, is a type of meta-cognitive scaffolding that assists students in linking learning processes to objectives, and motivates them to assume responsibility for their own learning.
SimVenture's use of reflective tools allows students to reflect both in- and on-action (Schön, 1983) and encourages them to develop enhanced cognitive strategies. Whilst this is a benefit in, and of, itself, if Biggs (1999) and Iran-Nejad (1987) are correct in their assertions that an improvement in cognitive processing engenders positive feelings towards learning then effective reflection is also likely to lead to an increase in student motivation.
This evaluation has been conducted to assess whether the introduction of SimVenture into the prison classroom has facilitated a more constructivist environment capable of enhancing learning and increasing motivation. Through my interview with Mr. Ritchie it has become clear to me that this has largely been achieved and that SimVenture is fostering new and innovative approaches to teaching and learning.
An enhancement in learning has occurred through various mechanisms, but chief amongst these, I believe, is the evolvement of social constructivism that has taken place amongst the students and between the students and the class teacher. The sense of cooperation that has developed has led to the students learning with, and from, each other and has seen Mr. Ritchie's role alter from didactic instructor to ‘guide on the side' facilitator. This transformation has been engendered, in part, by SimVenture's affordance of an environment that gives Mr. Ritchie the opportunity to use a cognitive apprenticeship approach, utilising modelling and coaching to bring students to an autonomous stage. This approach fosters deep learning as existing cognitive models become destabilised and are realigned through a process of observation, practice and reflection, and optimally leads to students reaching a stage of mastery which is, in itself, intrinsically motivating (Prawat and Floden, 1994).
Motivation is further enhanced by SimVenture's ability to engage and maintain students' interest through the use of ‘real-life', relevant problems and challenges that stimulate students and align with their motivational beliefs. Additionally, the simulation offers the opportunity for learners to take charge of their learning and become self-directing which, as Knowles (1975) identified, not only leads to increased motivation but is also likely to increase the breadth and depth of learning.
It is clear from conversation with Mr. Ritchie that he has not used SimVenture merely as an addendum to his conventional teaching, but rather has incorporated it as the basis for a new approach to teaching that is successfully engaging inmate-students in effective learning.