This project was carried out at a time of year when students are overloaded with assignment deadlines. In the original analysis, students identified having too many assignments at one time as having a detrimental effect on their ability to meet deadlines. This reflects findings of research reviewed in the literature review which suggested that students can become amotivated when they are overloaded(Hoskins and Newstead, 2009). Given this factor, it might be expected that students would not show an improvement in hand-in rates at this time of year.
Students were asked to comment on the reasons why they might have missed or met the deadlines for this project. Only one student stated that having a real client made a difference. This student was rated a 5 in the deadline meeting analysis carried out at the start of the project and, for me the deadlines for this project were the only deadlines that this student has met all year.
"Because of the outside client, I felt more responsibility to meet deadlines."
Two students felt that they had met deadlines because they enjoyed the work.
"I met the deadlines because I was enjoying making the website"
"I met the deadlines because Website Production unit is my favorite unit"
Other responses (n=2) indicated that deadlines have been met due to understanding what needed to be done. This may have been helped by Peter's session where he discussed requirements with the students, and James' session where he helped with technical issues.
Students were allocated a rating between 1 and 5 indicating their tendency to hand work in on time with 1 meaning that a student consistently meets deadlines for assignment work, improving work voluntarily in response to feedback, and 5 meaning that a student consistently misses deadlines. These ratings were applied before and after the project and a simple substraction was used to produce a rating showing the change in the deadline meeting ratings. Only one student had a negative change rating. This student had a rating of 2 before the project started and meet all deadlines during the time spent on the project, only missing the final deadline due to having left the course at that stage.
Seven students had a calculated difference factor of 3, which is interpreted to mean that, in this project, they made a significant improvement in their hand-in rate. Of those students who had a rating of 5 (consistently missed deadlines) before the project started, all showed an improvement of 1 or more, three students had improved by 3. The most significant group are possibly those who moved from a rating of 4 to a rating of 1.
Another reason, cited by students, for not meeting deadlines is when students are not confident in their knowledge or skills or when they are unclear of the requirements for a task. This task filled both these criteria. It involved students having to learn, largely independently, a new development platform and produce a website to meet a difficult set of requirements. Again, it might be expected that there would be little or no improvement in hand-in rates or that there might even be a negative impact. However, three interventions were designed to address these issues: a workshop to help students to understand the process of working with an unclear set of requirements; a client meeting to discuss and clarify the requirements; and a clinic to help students to ensure that they have the relevant skills.
The results of this action research project are based on a small sample of students. Although there was good participation in the project itself (it was part of an assignment and therefore compulsory for all students), the participation rate in the research itself was low and so it is difficult to find correlations between student perceptions before and after the project.
This was one project, it was mainly practical and the deadline meeting statistics are compared to an aggregated statistic taken from the deadline meeting results of a variety of different tasks.
Using a crude measure of hand-in rates, the research appears to show an improvement across all participants in hand-in rates with the only negative change in rate was for a student who left the course during the project. It may be significant that both students who left the course during the project met the deadlines until they left. Against a background of making a decision to leave, these students still did the work. One of these students had a very poor hand in record before the project.
Two students who felt the project gave them a good experience improved their hand-in rating by 3. Three further students, whose rating did not improve or improved by just 1, all had a good hand-in rate before the project. This might indicate that those with good hand-in rates maintained those rates and were not adversely affected by the different nature of the project. Of the nine students who had a hand-in rating of 1 or 2, those who consistently met deadlines, all except the student who left the course had a change factor of 0 or 1. Significantly, two of the four students who started on a rating of 2 and remained on the course moved from a rating of 2 to 1.
At the other end of the scale, of the twelve students who often or consistently missed deadlines, seven improved by a factor of 3, meeting more deadlines than they missed during the project. One student made no change and still missed most deadlines and one student made a small change, still missing more deadlines than meeting them. These two students both met the final deadline and one was very positive about the project in the focus group meeting and second survey.
This project was difficult to organise, it took time and needed the involvement of people from outside college to implement. The bursary attached to this project allowed some of the activities to happen. I was able to rent office space, pay for transport, pay travel expenses to enable this project to happen. Students appear, from their comments, to have appreciated all sessions and, particularly, the involvement of a real client. Information Technology/Computing is a difficult subject to arrange real work experience projects in. The nature of most IT systems means that there are problems with ensuring security of systems, with matching the skills of a Level 3 BTEC National student to the skills required by the industry, even at a low level. The subject area differs from other subject areas, such as hairdressing and catering where there is a tradition of work related experiences being embedded into college courses. Ours is a subject that is either studied for interest, not necessarily connected to a career, or studied with a view to a career in IT generally requiring an extension of studying either at university or by self-study to build a portfolio to show skills.
I hope that this research project has some poignant points to make about the value of a teaching model that involves people from industry in some of the delivery, alongside teaching staff and also of the value of finding real clients with manageable projects for Level 3 students to tackle. This will involve some funding and some experimentation to find the way that it will work best.