Study Of Classroom Learning Environment

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The purpose of this study was to investigate the classroom learning environment of a group of teachers who are taking a module for the Professional Development Continuum Model (PDCM)-Master's degree scheme. This module, "Classroom Learning Environment" required participants to learn collaboratively using on-line collaborative platforms such as Wetpaint, Google Documents and Blogspot as well as face-to-face collaboration. A total of 25 teachers participated in the study which used the modified What is Happening In this Class (WIHIC) questionnaire. Results indicated that internal consistency reliability of all the scale except for actual Student Involvement. There were also significant differences in the actual and preferred perceptions of all the scale except for Cooperation. There was however little difference in the perception between gender. Suggestions were also made on how to improve the learning environment of a similar course in future.

Introduction

At MOE Work Plan Seminar 2009, the Minister of Education, Dr Ng Eng Hen, mentioned that the ministry would continue to support teachers who would want to upgrade their qualifications and there were currently 1000 teachers who made use of the various schemes to upgrade themselves (Ministry of Education, 2009). One of these schemes was the Professional Development Continuum Model (PDCM)-Master's degree scheme that aimed to equip teachers for their professional practices. As part of the requirement of the course, teachers would need to attend and complete 10 modules.

A group of teachers signed up for the module "Classroom Learning Environment". This module aimed to introduce teachers to the field of psycho-social learning environment, as well as the different elements of a learning environment. They would also be introduced to instruments that are used by researchers to assess the learning environment. The course was conducted over 6 days and its mode of lesson delivery involved a mix of on-line learning and traditional face-to -face tutorials. To facilitate the on-line learning, the teachers were required to learn how to make use of Web 2.0 tools for on-line collaboration. Wetpaint, Google Documents, Blogspot and Facebook are tools that were introduced to the teachers for them to form on-line communities as well as to support each other during the course.

In order to investigate teachers' perceptions of the learning environment that was created during this course, the trainer decided to use a particular classroom environment instrument, a modified What is Happening In this Class (WIHIC) questionnaire. The findings from this study would then allow the trainer to determine the effectiveness of the mode of instructions and to make any refinement to the course if necessary for future batches of participants. The objectives of this study are:

What are the perceptions of participants in the class using WIHIC?

Are there any perceptual differences between (a) pretest and posttest and (b) gender?

Literature Review

Herbert Walberg and Rudolf Moos are regarded by Fraser as the pioneer in the field of developing questionnaires to assess the learning environment (Castillo, Peiro, & Fraser, 2005). Since then, there has been considerable progress made in the progress of in the area of conceptualization, assessment and investigating the concept of learning environment. In the past, the most common means of gaining insights of the effectiveness of an learning environment is through the perception in of the participants rather than that of an external observer. However it is the use of qualitative methods in learning environment research that provided greater in-depth understanding of it (Aldridge, Fraser, and Huang, 1999).

Research has also shown that the quality of the learning environment is an important determinant of student learning. Students do perform better and have better academic outcome when they perceive the classroom environment positively (Den Brok, Fisher, Rickards & Bull, 2006). Furthermore, students' perception of their teachers' behavior also act as a set of important mediator between the actual teacher's behavior and the actual performance of learning activities by each student. Hence it is important for both teachers to be aware of the students' perception of the environment and the factors that affect it so that to ensure that the learning process can be optimized (Den Brok, Fisher, Rickards & Bull, 2006).

The WIHIC questionnaire was developed by Fraser, Fisher and McRobbie in 1996 and they based the questionnaire on Moo's conceptual framework for human environment. This framework suggests that the learning environment would have three different dimensions: relationship, personal growth and system maintenance and change dimensions. The relationship dimension is concern with the nature of personal relationship in the environment while the personal growth dimension would represent the opportunities for personal development as well as self-enhancement. Having an environment that is orderly with clear expectations, having control yet responsive to change is part of the system maintenance and change dimension (Den Brok et al., 2006).

WIHIC is one of the more popular instruments that are used to investigate students' perception of the learning environment because it combines the relevant dimensions of a learning environment and has been validated in many countries. It had also been cross-culturally validated (Aldright et al., 1999). Furthermore, WIHIC is able to demonstrate predictive validity on both cognitive and affective student outcome. Having a small number of items (56 in total) and scale (7 in total), makes it easy to use and requires less time to administer. (Den Brok et al., 2006).

Methodology

Sample

The study involved a total of 25 participants who enrolled in the "Classroom Learning Environment" module. 9 were males while 16 were female. In terms of number of years in service, 6 of the participants had less than five years experience in teaching while those having six to ten years of experience formed the largest group of 13. There were two participants in the other three categories (11 to 15 years, 16 to 20 years and more than 20 years) each.

Instrument

A modified version of the WIHIC was used. The dimension and the number of items in each scales (in bracket) were as follows; Student Cohesiveness (3), Teacher Support (4), Involvement (3), Task Orientation (4), Cooperation (4) and Equity (3). Two forms, a student- actual form and student- preferred form were used and the items were measured on a 4-point Likert-type scale. The four-point frequency response format of Strongly agree, Agree, Disagree and Strongly Disagree were utilized. Table 1 below gives an overview of the six scales and a sample item for each scale of the WIHIC.

Procedure

The trainer administered the questionnaire personally with the preferred form given to participants. The purpose and the items were explained and clarified to the participants by the researcher. The participants were allowed to complete the questionnaires before the actual lesson were carried out in the designated learning environment. After the lesson, the actual forms were then distributed and the whole process was repeated using it. Data from both the actual forms and preferred forms were then captured using Google document in

Table 1

Scale Description for Each Scale and Example of Items in the Modified "What is Happening in This Class?" (WIHIC) Questionnaire.

WIHIC Scale

Description

Item

Student Cohesiveness (SC)

Extent to which students know, help and are supportive of one another

I would help other students in this course when they have trouble with their work.

Teacher Support (TS)

Extent to which teacher helps, befriends, trusts and shows interest in students

The teacher would help me when I have trouble doing my coursework.

Student Involvement (SI)

Extents to which students have attentive interest, participate in discussions, perform additional work and enjoy the class

I explain my thoughts about the lesson to other students.

Task Orientation (TO)

Extent to which it is important to complete activities planned and to stay on the subject matter

Getting my work done in the course is important to me.

Cooperation (CO)

Extent to which students cooperate rather than compete with one another on learning tasks

I cooperate with other students on the course activities.

Equity (EQ)

Extent to which the teacher treats students equally

My ideas would be treated as being just as important as other students' ideas.

and Excel spread sheet. The response of WIHIC was coded in the following manner. Strongly agree was awarded 4 points, Agree was awarded 3 points, Disagree was given 2 points and Strongly Disagree was awarded 1 point. The data is then entered in SPSS version 17.0, a statistical computer program for data analysis.

Data Analyses

To answer the first research question, descriptive statistical test was done to determine the mean and the standard deviation, at 95% confidence interval for each scale. Independent (gender) and paired T-test (preferred and actual) was done to answer the second research question. Cronbach's alpha reliability test was also done to determine the internal consistency reliability of the data.

Results

In the statistical analyses, both the actual and preferred scores and the scale and item means were used as the unit of analysis to determine the internal consistency (Cronbach's alpha coefficient). The results are reported in Table 2.

All items had a minimum mean score of 3.13 (Actual Student Involvement) and a maximum mean score of 3.83 (Preferred Student Cohesiveness). This indicated that most probably that for most of the item were rated as either "Strongly Agree" or "Agree". This might indicate that there might be a highly positive classroom learning environment in this module.

Estimates of the internal consistency of the WIHIC scales were calculated

using Cronbach's coefficient alpha (see Table 2). All but one scales had good internal consistency with coefficient alphas ranging from 0.77 (Actual Task Orientation) to 0.97 (Actual Equity). The scale of actual Student Involvement had low internal consistency reliability with its Cronbach's alpha being calculated as 0.41. This could have arise because certain participants might be grappling on how to make sense on the usage of the on-line collaborative platforms and thus unable to focus on the other aspects of the module. The might have prevent the participants to focus on the lesson at hand and thus participating as fully as desired.

Table 1 displayed the difference in item means between the perceived and the actual form. Using a paired sample T-test, it was discovered that there is significant difference at for all items at 95 % confidence interval for all items except for Cooperation (see Table 1). This could indicate that although the participants perceived the learning

Table 2

Cronbach's Alpha Reliability, Scale Means and Item Means of Actual and Preferred Forms of Modified WIHIC.

Scale

Cronbach's alpha coefficient

Scale Mean

Std Deviation

Item Mean

Mean Difference

Act

Pref

Act

Pref

Act

Pref

Act

Pref

 

Student Cohesiveness

0.87

0.84

10.52

11.48

1.36

1.00

3.51

3.83

0.32*

Teacher Support

0.81

0.86

13.28

14.96

1.62

1.49

3.32

3.74

0.42*

Student Involvement

0.41

0.78

9.40

10.52

0.91

1.26

3.13

3.51

0.38*

Task Orientation

0.77

0.87

13.52

15.20

1.64

1.47

3.38

3.80

0.42*

Cooperation

0.87

0.96

14.68

15.08

1.63

1.63

3.67

3.77

0.10

Equity

0.97

0.96

9.56

10.68

1.16

1.46

3.19

3.56

0.37*

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

* p > 0.05 N= 25

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 1. Item means for students' perceptions of classroom learning environment as measured by modified WIHIC scales.

Table 3

Independent Sample T-Test to Determine If There is Any Difference Between Actual and Preferred Perceptions Between Gender.

Scale

Gender (Prefered Mean)

 

Gender (Actual Mean)

Female(Pref)

Male (Pref)

Significant

 

Male(Act)

Female(Act)

Significant

Student Cohesiveness

3.84

3.82

0.88

 

3.56

3.48

0.70

Teacher Support

3.76

3.72

0.83

 

3.44

3.25

0.26

Student Involvement

3.48

3.55

0.69

 

3.04

3.18

0.25

Task Orientation

3.83

3.75

0.61

 

3.33

3.41

0.65

Cooperation

3.80

3.72

0.67

 

3.58

3.72

0.44

Equity

3.58

3.52

0.77

 

3.30

3.13

0.30

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

environment as highly positive, it might not have met their expectations and there were still gaps that needed to be bridged. This is illustrated in Figure 1.

An independent sample T-test was conducted to determine if there is any difference in the perception between genders. The results indicated that there is no significant difference for all items for both actual and preferred. However as the sample size is small, there might be an actual difference but the results might not be significant in this case.

Limitations

This study is done on a small sample of participants taking just one module. To better determine the effectiveness of the learning environment, the study could include a larger sample size as well as across different classes in order to detect if there is any actual difference between gender.

Discussion

The design of the course involve the both the traditional face to face interaction as well as on-line discussion. There was a significant difference in terms of the preferred and the actual for all the scale except Cooperation. This give rise to the question whether the there is a mismatch between expectation of the participants and the actual lesson. In the preferred form, the participants ranked Student cohesiveness, Task Orientation and Cooperation top. The three strands were also reflected in the actual form whereby Cooperative, Student Cohesiveness and Task Orientation were ranked in the order of preference. This provides insight that for adult learners, there is a greater need for them to work together as a group and to complete a task. Their level of maturity would also allow them to be willing to work together and contribute to support one another.

With knowledge of their needs and their actual working style, the design of future such modules could incorporate tasks that allow participants to work together. This is evident in this module in which there were significant amount of on-line tasks that the participants were required to perform. Not only the participants were required to contribute their thoughts and learning point in the wiki site (Wetpaint), for each lesson, they were also also required to set up a blog to document their learning journey. The participants were also tasked to work in groups to do a presentation on two of the articles that they had read. As these activities took place over a period of a week, it forces the participants to embrace new skills and support another.

Student Involvement and Equity were both ranked lowly in WIHIC for both the preferred and actual form. There relative low ranking could be attributed to the support that the participants received during the course. The demand of the course is such that the it required the participants to be well verse in the use of certain on- line collaboration platform. Although most participants did pick up the skills eventually, during their learning journey, their main concern could be one of that to learn and be familiar with the platform first rather than completion of task. Participants who struggled with the platform and might not get the help at that point in time might perceived that they were not treated equally.

The mean difference between the preferred and actual is the largest in the scale of Teacher's Support. As the course is run by a lecturer, the teacher to student ratio for the course is 25:1. This might not be sufficient to provide just -in-time help when the participants were grappling with the intricacies of the platforms. Although there was an assistant to guide and introduce the various platform to the participants, the assistant was present for only 2 half session, which might be insufficient. Despite these findings, it is also important to note that the participants of the course felt that there was a highly positive classroom learning environment. The participants were willing to work together and cooperate that made the learning environment a pleasant one to work in. Every participants also grew in their profession knowledge as they would have pick up relevant IT skills that they could implement in their own practice back in school.

Conclusion

The findings of the modified WIHIC allowed the researcher to be more aware od what is happening in the class and what could be done in future to improve on the course. For example, the use of WIHIC in this study had shown that there were significant differences between the actual and preferred score. This could indicate that perhaps the expectations of the participants were not fully met in some aspect of the course and an interview might be conducted with the participants so that the design and execution of the course could be better improved. An example of improvement could be the utilization of an assistant to guide and hand-hold learners who are less technologically savvy so that the Student Involvement and Equity score might improve.

Although WIHIC has the advantage of being a simple instrument to use, it only provides quantitative data in which the researcher needs to make sense of. To make more sense of the data, this study could involve the use of the participants' blog to gain more insight of the learning environment. Using the qualitative information from the blog, the researcher could for example, elicit reasons why the score of actual Equity was the lowest in this study.

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