Factors determining the effectiveness of online access to the curriculum for students at risk
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This thesis reports a longitudinal study that investigated the factors affecting at-risk students' use of an online curriculum delivery mode for some Year 11 subjects. The study examined the skills and attitudes of the students during their online learning experience, and followed the teachers while they developed suitable teaching methods to be able to deliver their subject via online learning. Importantly, the students in the study were at risk of not completing subjects in the South Australian Certificate of Education (SALE) if some kind of curriculum intervention was not applied. Access to the school curriculum can be problematic for some young people for a variety of reasons, including a limited subject choice, an inability to attend programmed classes and exhibiting behaviour that is deemed to be inappropriate by school authorities. Students in this study were not able to study the subjects they wished because of timetable clashes, were not able to attend school regularly for personal reasons or had exhibited negative behaviour to their teachers and peers preventing them from attending certain classes. At the time of the study, all the students wished to complete their SALE, but limited access to the curriculum was likely to prevent this from occurring. The study used qualitative methods of data collection including interviews with students and teachers, analysis of students' work, electronic communications and other documents, and records of meetings. These were used to prepare case studies for each of the seven students involved. While the student sample was small, the varied personal experiences of the students in the study enabled the examination of many of the characteristics documented in the literature as those being associated with at-risk youth.All the students involved in the study completed the NetLearning Project (NLP) unit(s) they had enrolled in, but each encountered different challenges. The case studies provided data that enabled identification of the characteristics students required to be successful online learners. Three clusters of factors relating to personal situations (reason for entry to the program, access to a home computer and continuity of schooling), skill factors (level of ICT and English literacy skills), and attitude to learning (willingness to persist and level of self-directedness) were identified as major contributors to students' ability to complete their units. The teacher case studies revealed that the characteristics required for teachers to operate effectively within the online learning environment include an ability to promote positive teacher-student relationships, a high level of ICT skills, good subject knowledge and curriculum understanding. In addition, teachers required initiative, persistence and collaborative skills. The findings of the study highlight the importance of attitudinal factors in determining the students and teachers success in the online environment and suggest that teacher-student relationships have a major impact on student learning outcomes, just as they do in the traditional classroom.
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