Active and collaborative learning items on the Irish Survey of Student Engagement (ISSE); Interpretations of, and responses to by students and staff of the Department of Science at LYIT
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This study focusses specifically on questions on collaborative learning within the area of ‘Active learning’ in the Irish Survey of Student Engagement (ISSE) which was piloted in Ireland in 2013 and was rolled out in full across the 3rd level sector in 2014, 2015 and 2016. Data published by ISSE suggested that the discipline area of science has scored poorly in the Active learning index to date, indicating that science students have reported partaking in active learning with low frequency. The reasons behind this were investigated in the current study by exploring how the ISSE measures active and collaborative learning and exploring student and staff interpretations of these questions. ISSE data was used to ascertain how LYIT compares with other institutions in the area of active learning. A case study approach was used as the general methodology which allowed links to be made between national and LYIT specific data from the ISSE and responses given by student and staff in focus group sessions. Seven focus groups were conducted involving 33 students and 8 members of staff. The study revealed that LYIT performs well on the scale of ‘Active learning’ compared with other institutions nationally but that science students within LYIT, and nationally report infrequent incidences of active collaborative learning. Focus groups revealed that students did not consider laboratory based learning when answering questions on active and collaborative learning on the ISSE due to the emphasis placed on assessment rather than learning in the questions. This has not been investigated until now and represents a significant gap between what is supposedly being measured in the survey and what is actually measured. In addition, the focus groups with students gave insight into how students view laboratory classes and the unique pedagogy of the undergraduate laboratory. Students stated that the practical class is where they do most of their learning and a clear picture of an active learning environment emerged from focus group discussions which has not been reported on previously in the literature and is not being captured by the ISSE. Focus groups with staff unexpectedly revealed that there is incongruity between staff and students regarding how important team-working and interpersonal skills are in the laboratory. It is clear from this study that greater articulation between educators and students surrounding the skills that are being valued and assessed is required.
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