Teaching in times of COVID: student engagement in collaborative work in blended learning

The emergency measures taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have led to a rapid change from on-site to online learning and teaching contexts. Online learning is understood as an umbrella term that includes any type of distance education delivered via the internet. An example of this type of education is blended learning, which is characterised by online and on-site teaching practices. Blended learning was adopted as an alternative to fully online teaching programs by some higher education institutions and in  response to the pandemic. Despite being combined with the face-to-face learning experience, the online component of blended learning still requires a reconceptualisation of teaching and learning practices. An evaluation of the quality of the learning experience by paying attention to the multidimensional concept of student engagement can provide fruitful insights concerning the impact of combining face-to-face and online teaching practices. Hence, the main objective of this exploratory study is to observe and analyse student engagement after working collaboratively in different tasks in both on-site and online learning contexts. In order to reach this goal, 20 university students participated in two collaborative tasks during on-site and online sessions. After the completion of these tasks, an engagement questionnaire designed for the purpose of the study was administered. Finally, to fully understand the online learning experience, selected cases of participants’ online activity in the virtual platform was tracked and examined.

Participants reported positive engagement in all dimensions – social, cognitive, behavioural, collaborative and emotional – and in both learning contexts. However, a closer look showed subtle differences in terms of engagement depending on the learning context. In particular, the social, cognitive and collaborative dimensions differed as influenced by the learning context and the nature of the task. A qualitative analysis of students’ reports of their engagement suggested that the online environment promoted cognitive engagement but the collaborative nature of the task did not reach its fullest potential in this type of context. Participants made reference to social relationships and agency as well as the impossibility of showing full support as factors to take into account in order to promote collaborative engagement. Concerning the participants’ online activity, it cannot be considered an indicator of engagement but it did help in the understanding of variability of engagement throughout the course. Overall, the study of student engagement in online and on-site contexts provide indicators of the efficacy and quality of the teaching and learning experience. Special attention must be paid to student engagement in the online context. Finally, the interrelatedness of the different dimensions that make up the engagement construct point to the complexity and dynamism of the learning experience.

Palabras clave

Blended Learning Collaborative Work Engagement

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Ignacio Martinez Buffa

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