Learning Futures Evaluation:
Final Report (Dec. 2011)
Deakin Crick R., Jelfs H., Huang S. & Wang, Q. (2011). Learning Futures Evaluation: Final Report. Centre for Systems Learning & Leadership, Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol, UK. Available as: http://learningemergence.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/LearningFuturesEvaluation-Final-Dec2011.pdf
During the academic year 2011/12 we undertook a research project with three Learning Futures schools in order to evaluate the impact of Learning Futures pedagogies on student engagement in learning and schooling. The three schools committed to developing the four Learning Futures approaches with year seven throughout the year. Three control schools were identified by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation for comparison. A third set of three schools were originally included, but they did not work with Learning Futures approaches in year seven, apart from one, which worked with a sub group of four classes. These are not included in the research design. Pre-tests were administered in October 2010 and post tests in June 2011. There were nine measures of student engagement: seven learning power scales, the NZCER school engagement survey and a Learning Futures engagement scale.
Enquiry-based learning – learning by seeking out and evaluating information, often within an extended project
School as Base Camp – the school as a base for enquiries that will take students into their communities and further afield, rather than as a final destination
Extended learning relationships – reciprocal relationships that support learning – these are as often lateral (‘peer-peer’) as they are hierarchical (‘teacher-student’)
School as Learning Commons – the school as ‘common ground’, with all its users sharing access to its resources, and responsibility for its development.
From our original experimental design, one control school did not provide post test data and one experimental school did not deliver the Learning Futures interventions for year seven. Thus we report on two experimental schools and two control schools.
Firstly, one control school contributed to the increase in the control cohort. An investigation of that school’s approach to pedagogy in year seven showed that they attended closely to students’ aspirations, identity and language in learning, promoted enquiry through philosophy for children, and developed extended learning relationships through coaching. This was at a sufficient scale to account for the increase.
With the two experimental schools, school A accounted for the significant reduction in engagement measures. Further statistical examination showed that there was little variation between classes in school A. In school C, there was no overall significant reduction – in other words, there was no change in outcome when in the cohort as a whole. However there was significant variation between classes’ contributions to that result. In order to examine this more closely paired T-tests were computed class by class (where appropriate). This showed that in school C one class increased significantly, one increased, but did not achieve statistical significance, whilst two decreased significantly. Non parametric pre/post tests, conducted on the remaining classes showed no significance.
Our attention then moved to the quality of pedagogies in these two classrooms. What transpired was that Learning Futures practice in this school was patchy, but in these particular classes it was implemented consistently and well and here we see an improvement in engagement in learning.
We identified one teacher and class from each of the experimental schools. From these we statistically selected three students – those with low, medium and high levels of engagement in learning, particularly the seven dimensions of learning power. From this sample we collected over 20 hours of audio and video data, on two occasions per classroom, examples of students work in Learning Futures pedagogies, and field observations. This data enabled us to explore qualitatively what characteristics of student learning experiences are indicators of of deep engagement. These characteristics were also present, fractally, in the teachers’ data and may also be relevant to leaders and the school as a whole.
Detailed grounded thematic analysis identified twelve themes. A second level of analysis identified their coherence within three overarching themes:
- Intrinsic interest and flow in learning
- Active learning
- Authentic Performance as assessment event
- Connecting to students wider life and experience
- Personal pride in their work
- Enacting a rich, owned language for learning
- Learning as integrating life narrative
- Consciously developing learning power
- Making choices in what and how they learn
- Generating new knowledge – in relationship
- Taking responsibility for learning pathways and process
- Engaging in learning relationships
Overall student outcome
When these three themes were taken together in a third layer of analysis focusing on curriculum content and the processes of learning, it became clear that the overall student outcome is that students become generative knowledge workers – able to lead their own learning and to make sense of, and usefully and authentically work with the mass of data and information that is available to them, formally and informally, in their learning lives.
Knowledge and Agency
This third level of analysis revealed two dimensions of Learning Futures pedagogies which are fundamental for students. The first is the movement of the student, from being dependent on the teacher to taking responsibility for their own learning. This requires a parallel movement by teachers who progressively hand over control in learning to students. The second dimension has to do with the sequencing of students’ encounter with knowledge, where there needs to be a movement from students as recipients of pre-scribed, and often abstracted knowledge, to students as active and authentic ‘knowledge generators’ – from knowledge consumption to knowledge co-generation. When these two dimensions are put together as axes in a knowledge/agency window it is possible to understand why the one experimental school actually demonstrated a reduction in student engagement: their practice was actually still teacher led, or ‘top down’, located in the upper left quadrant. Whereas the control school, in fact, was operating much more closely to the upper right quadrant, and the three classes in school C were also operating in that space.
These findings enable us to offer a more nuanced explanation of the four Learning Futures approaches, which remain important pedagogical themes. Great Learning Futures pedagogies will support student ownership of, and responsibility for their own learning and enable them to be co-generators of knowledge, not just consumers. Schools as they are traditionally organised stay predominantly in the lower left quadrant. In order to be able to move seamlessly between all four quadrants, teachers and leaders must approach teaching as learning designers – because the outcome is not known in advance – and they need to enact school as a base-camp for learning, to understand and lead enquiry, to extend the nature and type of learning relationships and to function as a ‘learning commons’ the purpose of which is firmly focused on students as authors of their own learning and knowledge generation.