Title

Engaging academically at-risk primary school students in an after-school ICT-mediated program

Date of Award

1-1-2008

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Education

Faculty

Faculty of Education and Arts

Abstract

This case study documented how a group of 14 academically at-risk Primary 5 students were engaged in academic related tasks in an after-school program mediated by a game-like 3D Multi User Virtual Environment (MUVE), Quest Atlantis (QA). Although there was no significant difference in the students' academic performance, they were observed to be more engaged in the-learning tasks and had acquired a range of information and communication technology (lCT) skills. The program started off with irregular students' attendance. However, this situation gradually improved over the year long program. It had also attracted other Primary 5 students to enrol themselves in the program. The planned schedule of the after-school program and the 3D MUVE provided the structures and online learning environment to engage these students. Adopting an activity theoretical perspective, this thesis reported on the after-school program from the perspectives of the students and teacher, emphasising on the context that was made up of rules, community, and roles. Activity theory was used to organise and analyse the actions, repair actions, and identify the disturbances in the activity systems of both teacher-researcher and students and through this, the more systemic contradictions were identified. Activity theory provided the framework to reveal and illuminate the disturbances and contradictions during the implementation of the after-school program. The insights and findings from this study emerged through the analysis of the disturbances and contradictions. A case study approach was used in this thesis to look into the effectiveness of the intervention of the use of a 3D MUVE to re-engage a group of academically at-risk students in an after-school program, using both quantitative and qualitative methods. The main findings suggested that: (1) the importance of the less visible social mediators - the rules, community, and division of labour - in this after school activity system; (2) the pivotal role of the teacher; (3) that QA is both a tool and an object to the students; (4) the importance of the object of the activity in determining focus and direction of an activity; and (5) that authenticity of learning tasks enhances learning engagement. This study illuminated the possibilities and potentials of the use of a game-like 3D MUVE for the re-engagement of this group of academically at-risk students. However, the context, the teacher, and the design of the learning tasks also played crucial roles in the engagement of these students.

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