Bohmer, D. P. (2006). Construction training and learning objects: an ethnography. Instructional Technology Monographs 3 (2). Retrieved <insert date>, from http://itm.coe.uga.edu/archives/fall2006/dbohmer.htm.

Construction Training and Learning Objects: An Ethnography

by

Daniel P . Bohmer
University of Georgia

 

Abstract

It is important to find the best methods for managing students’ behavior in a construction training laboratory while accommodating each individual’s learning pace. During my search, I have attempted to use analog multimedia for instructional presentation. However, analog multimedia had limitations. Computers supported the use of a digitized multimedia format with advantages surpassing the analog format. I compared student receptivity, productivity, and behavioral events between a live demonstration format and one that was digitally recorded. Some aspects of managing student behavior in the construction lab were improved while using the digital format but not to the extent desired. The quality of work the students produced remained constant through both treatments. The most significant finding of this study was that some students resisted the use of multimedia presentations to acquire construction training.

 

Literature Review Methods Results and Discussion Conclusions References

 

Introduction

At the time this study was conducted, I had a total of 23 years in a vocational education laboratory (lab) environment (also known as career and technical education) teaching construction skills to high school students. One constant in all of those years of teaching experience was the phenomenon of unacceptable student behavior. There were two versions of poor behavior which I most frequently encountered. One type of behavior consistently manifested was that of the vandalism of tools and expensive equipment. The other type of behavior was the malicious act that was committed to disrupt or distract from the educational process or to inflict psychological distress upon me, the authority figure.

Regardless of the motivations behind students committing these acts, whether it is to get attention, oppose authority, or to be playful, there seemed to be a common deterrent factor. It is an unwritten rule of students that one must commit the disruptive or vandalistic act without being caught and receiving the punishment for the behavior.

It did not matter whether the reason to elude detection stemmed from a dislike of the consequences if caught or to have the bragging rights of having a more clever intellect than the authority figure. I determined that the most economical way to deal with disruptive behavior was not to seek to understand a disruptive student's motivations, but rather to reduce, as much as possible, the opportunities to commit such behaviors unobserved.

In my construction lab environment, sustaining student surveillance has been very difficult to achieve for several reasons. For one reason, the preponderance of the student enrollment in my construction classes is 14 to 16 year old males. Out of a class of 18 to 28 students, there were at most three females. Usually there were no females. Adolescent males were most often the source of disruptive behavior in my construction classes. I had a higher than average concentration of that portion of the student population, compared to other high school classes. There were also more students that matched the description of an at-risk student in my construction classes than was typical of most other high school classes. This matched the trend that is seen in most high schools that offer career and technical education. One of the characteristics of at-risk students continues to be their propensity to engage in disruptive behavior (Ensminger, & Slusarcick, 1992; Gottfredson, Gottfredson, & Hybl, 1993; McDill, Natriello, & Pallas, 1986).

These two population factors increased the frequency that disruptive acts would occur in my construction lab compared to other classes. This fact increased need for proactive vigilance.

While there was a greater likelihood that I would experience disruptive behaviors in my class due to the class makeup, there were other contributing factors as well. These factors included the nature of construction training, and the environment in which that training took place.

Located in my construction shop were tools and devices which, when used properly, produced attractive and/or useful results. These same items were ideal for inflicting damage and disabling otherwise attractive equipment and furnishings when in the hands of a vandal. Most of these items were not available in a regular classroom setting. It followed that the optimum time of misbehavior for someone who had a propensity to commit acts of vandalism of any sort was when he was in my construction lab.

This environmental factor also had to be considered along with the activities that took place in my lab. This was not a sit-down environment. Students had to move around, work in temporary groups, and obtain tools and materials. They created a lot of noise and debris. This structured chaos was a medium akin to that found in a Petri dish, except that it was not bacteria that were being encouraged to grow, it was disruptive behavior that was cultivated.

This construction lab activity was the result of my assigning a series of practice exercises or projects to students. I designed these projects to help students attain the educational standards for construction education established in my state. The project sequence began with simple and easy-to-perform tasks and progressed into increasingly more challenging ones. The progression continued through three to four semesters of high school training. Toward the end of their construction training experience, students could tailor their education experience by choosing from a range of advanced level course selections. Having students advance through a sequence of projects through which they acquire skills and insights into approaches for various tasks, is also the foundational premise of the Project Method which was a curriculum framework that was developed at the beginning of the twentieth century (Knoll,1997).

As I had to make allowances for the various ability levels of students, I usually had two to three clusters of students identified by their project progress. One cluster would be continuing to work to complete a project that another cluster of students had completed. A third cluster might be two projects ahead of the rest of the class. This also added to the challenge of managing the lab environment.

In this environment, I frequently needed to conduct demonstrations about processes, such as using tools or working on various types of material. At other times, I needed to provide some technical assistance to someone who was attempting to acquire a new skill and was seeking to put what I had demonstrated into practice.

During those two scenarios, I was unable to focus upon the area of safety or instructional concern and, at the same time, adequately scan the lab area to keep tabs on everyone's behavior. I had sought remedies to diminish these two time periods of vulnerability.

One potential solution was the use of an electronic surveillance system, such as a matrix of video cameras installed in the lab. That would be an obvious solution to removing those blind spots and detecting disruptive behavior. Some of my professional colleagues have already installed this equipment in some institutions. Such a construction lab management component could be a good solution, except that the administrators under which I have served adamantly opposed their use.

Having been a school administrator for three years with student disciplinary responsibilities, I could understand their resistance to such a surveillance system. Although it could have produced what appeared to be objective evidence - a video tape - the results might be subject to a wide spectrum of interpretation resulting in conflict. A conflict over video evidence does not occur when no surveillance system exists.

Video taped evidence might become a point of contention in another way. Sometimes a responsible adult could display excessive or unacceptable behavior in responding to a situation. Even if comparatively minor compared to the behavior of the disruptive student, that adult’s behavior would be amplified as an issue until it completely obscured the behavior of the student. The tape, in that case, might become a major liability and source of embarrassment to the school system.

Video surveillance systems are not as prohibitively expensive as they initially were because costs for installation and components have dropped significantly. While cost was no longer a major concern, one final consideration of an electronic surveillance system was the amount of time it would take from instructional preparation. To be effective, most incidents recorded by the system must be prosecuted. A surveillance system lost its deterrent effectiveness if was not consistently and substantially instrumental in exposing vandals and disruptive persons. Therefore, the teacher would be obligated to spend time looking through a tape or tapes to pinpoint when vandalism or disruption occurred, even if the teacher might have desired to handle the situation in some more expeditious manner.

Such a classroom or lab management device provides passive support for educating students. I was convinced that it was more prudent to concentrate on minimizing the conditions that fostered unwanted behaviors rather than to adjudicate them after the fact. It was preferable to expend time, effort and other resources to create a construction lab management system that supported students more directly. Such a system could help high school students develop their ability to find, interpret and apply information related to a variety of real-life or occupational simulated situations. These were the skills that could sustain a student entering the workforce.

With video surveillance not a realistic possibility, I began to consider another resolution to my problems that also utilized video tape. During my classroom management assessment, I realized that there was information that the students needed which did not have to come directly from me. I also realized that when I was asked for technical assistance, I had frequently provided that information in the initial demonstration.

I began creating video-taped demonstrations of shop tasks to diminish the problems that live demonstrations created. I analyzed all the information that I thought should be included in the recorded demonstrations and sought to anticipate answers to questions that were frequently asked. Each taped demonstration was concerned with a small discrete task or skill concept.

Advantages to this taped format became immediately apparent. In the past, students were expected to stand en masse around the demonstration area to view techniques for tool and material manipulation. Those in the back of the group did not always have an unobstructed view to the area of focus. With the taped demonstrations, each person in the class could have an excellent vantage point while being seated. When producing the tape, the attention focus area could be enlarged and specifically featured for even greater clarity.

While showing the tape, I was able to monitor student behavior. This reduced the conversational undercurrent which always existed during live presentations. The poking, prodding, and occasional projectile launch were also greatly diminished.

The video taped demonstrations had their limitations. They were vulnerable to damage and vandalism, so I had to control the viewing times. Because the tapes were in an analog and mechanical format, getting access to specific portions of information was inconvenient.

In using video media, one of the lab management vulnerability situations was reduced but still remained a problem. Students would forget or did not acquire all the information on the first viewing. Showing the tapes again consumed too much activity time, and students complained about viewing a rerun of old information.

While in the process of producing these video demonstrations, I began to collect operable computer cast-offs from around the school which were destined for the public auction. At first, I planned to use these as devices to test student knowledge. The tests were to be implemented using software that I had created, using a common programming language application.

I realized that the video taped demonstrations I was creating could be digitized and then archived on several of the computers which had central processing units capable of handling video files. As I sought to determine how this technology could fit into the overall understanding of classroom or lab management, I stumbled onto the term learning object(s). I was seeking to find a working definition for how I intended to include digital technology into my instructional and lab management scheme. It became apparent to me that I would be involved in creating and archiving discrete informational portions that could be accessed at any time and as often as desired. The term for such an information portion, learning object, surfaced as the most appropriate term to be applied to how I intended to organize and present construction information.

The use of learning objects offered the potential to reduce the bottleneck that video tapes created. Students could access the appropriate demonstrations when they had arrived at that instructional point in the course. If they had technical questions, they could be redirected to the presentation and told where the specific content was located. Only a few questions would require my specialized attention.

This potential benefit remained in the domain of speculation. As with the study of any amalgam, using learning objects as part of construction lab management could yield results that differed from those desired or expected, based upon an understanding of management methods. It was possible that the use of learning objects could insert their own set of unacceptable management difficulties. Equipment may be too vulnerable to the wear and tear of the lab activities. Students might tend to resist having instruction delivered through a computer instead of from a teacher. The list of potential problems was lengthy.

What were the main considerations for using learning objects in a construction lab management scheme? I had considered the dynamics of classroom or lab management and the characteristics and inclinations of students in the class. I had also considered the merits of specific technologies to deliver construction training content, and the curriculum framework that the proposed learning objects would augment. Research existed that added to the understanding of these four areas of consideration: classroom management, student characteristics, instructional support from technology, and effective curriculum structure. What was not well researched was how these four areas of educational concern would coalesce while attempting to introduce learning objects into a construction lab management scheme.

The purpose of this ethnographic study was to describe the experience that I and my students had in using learning objects as part of a construction training management scheme at a high school located in Northeast Georgia . In this study, the use of learning objects as part of a construction management scheme was generally defined as the production and digitized archiving of construction training demonstrations that were made available for immediate and random access by construction students. This provided construction training in conjunction with a prescribed set of teacher-developed learning exercises which resembled the project method.

 

Literature Review

The pursuit of research that related to my study about using learning objects as part of a construction training management scheme was a formidable task because there were many dependent variables that could be considered. These studies singled out a particular variable of my intended study, but there was a paucity of research that examined the interactions among all of these within a particular environment.

Learning Objects

The use of learning objects in occupational training is still in its infancy. Lynna Ausburn (2002) refers to them as part of the future trend in pre-employment education. Based upon Delphi studies from 1999 through 2001, she indicated that the use of learning objects as part of an educational scheme will be necessary to meet the expectations of the educational consumer. She predicted that these consumers would expect a quick response to their information queries, and would self-regulate and self-motivate their learning (Ausburn, 2002). There was research to indicate that learning objects were being used in various settings with various age groups and ability levels (Azevedo, Cromley, Winters, Moos, Levin, & Fried, 2005; Choi, Kim, Jung, Clinton, & Kang, 2004; Hasebrook & Gremm, 1999; Snow, 2003; Veronikas, & Maushak 2005).

Hasebrook and Gremm (1999) pointed out that multimedia learning objects could potentially support the learning process by increasing student self-reliance and provide an avenue for closer interactions between students and teachers. Choi et al. (2004) indicated that such uses of media could reduce the teacher’s workload and allow the teacher to provide assistance and support for the more complex problems students may encounter.

Veronikas and Maushak (2005) noted in their findings of the use of screen captures, along with audio explanations, that students preferred to use a computer for materials that relied upon the use of sight and hearing. The participants of that study also expressed an opinion that a learning exercise, project, or an interactive portion built into the presentation would improve their ability to remember procedures and information.

The difficulty in applying these studies to my situation was that these study results were not concerned with an educational setting as peculiar as mine, and they did not specifically look at the effect that the inclusion of learning objects had upon classroom or lab management. There was little data available in regard to these two areas of concern.

I must note the term learning object did not appear in these studies, but the variable in the studies did conform to the definition of a learning object that I am using. I must also state, based upon some studies, that I am using the term learning object advisedly and should alert the reader that some would object to how I have appropriated it.

Presently, the definition for the term learning object is not fixed and is a matter of debate (Muzio, Heins, & Mundell, 2002; Sosteric & Hesemeier 2002). This debate centers upon how these chunks of educational or instructional content might be archived for access (Muzio, Heins, & Mundell, 2002; Sosteric & Hesemeier 2002). The term object is frequently used with a different meaning in the discipline of computer science and specifically in computer programming languages. In this context an object refers “... to controls, forms, menus, and various other items on the screen and in the code” (Perry & Hettihewa, 1998, p44).

The computer science educational community, with its distinctive definition of the word object, wants the definition of a learning object to reflect how it is manipulated by various computer platforms and made available to persons seeking access to the information from any point of origin (Sosteric & Hesemeier 2002). For the purposes of this study, Sosteric & Hesemeier’s (2002) definition of a learning object was used. They defined a learning object as, “... a digital file (image, movie, etc.) intended to be used for pedagogical purposes, which includes, either internally or via association, suggestions on the appropriate context within which to utilize the object” (Sosteric & Hesemeier, 2002, Conclusion, ¶ 3).”

The Project Method

While the use of learning objects is recent to vocational or career and technical education, the use of the project method was not. The project method was described extensively by Knoll (1997). It enjoyed widespread popularity in the United States in the past, and it continues to have strong support as a valid teaching method in European career and technical education training (Knoll 1997). As conceived by John Dewey in the early 1900s, the project method was designed to use a hands-on approach to learning, allowing development of constructive skills (Knoll 1997).

One of its advocates, Calvin Woodward, used a sequence of small projects to develop skill sets in vocational learners at the Manual Training School that he founded in St. Louis , Missouri . These small projects lead up to the required execution of a comprehensive project of the student’s choosing. The project entailed the application of a broad based skill set and a range of creative design and fabrication approaches, using problem solving skills acquired while working through the smaller exercise projects (Knoll, 1997)

Eventually, the project method, which came to be more broadly defined by William Heard Kilpatrick, Dewey’s student, to mean “whole hearted purposeful activity carried on in a social context” (Waks, 1997, p 396), fell into disrepute at the beginning quarter of the twentieth century.

The popularity of the project method diminished in this country because of Dewey’s and Boyd Bode’s criticism of Kilpatrick’s concept broadening extension (Knoll, 1997). This extension reduced the reliance of the project method upon the teacher-directed activities. These activities were the lead-in knowledge and skill building exercises that were to culminate in a comprehensive project of the student’s choosing (Waks, 1997). The project method, as originally conceived, was not criticized for being an ineffective curriculum framework (Waks, 1997).

The project method is being revived under the label of Project-Based Learning (Waks, 1997). Project-based learning (PBL) involves the use of a student selected project to encourage investigation, problem solving, and other higher order thinking skills. However, the smaller lead-in exercises that were part of the project method, especially Woodard’s version of it, had been replaced in PBL by teacher facilitation during the execution of the comprehensive project (Waks, 1997).

Classroom or Lab Management

Using a curriculum framework such as the project method or PBL requires adroit classroom or lab management skills. While many different techniques and skills had been the topics of research, the ones that were most relevant to my situation were those which were initially reported by Jacob Kounin (1970) and subsequently revisited (Brophy, 1983; Copland 1983; Irving & Martin, 1982; and Van der Sijde & Tomic 1993). Kounin (1970) identified several teacher characteristics and behaviors that distinguished teachers that exhibited effective classroom management skills from those who did not.

Two terms from these studies that relate to my situation in the construction lab were withitness and overlapping. Withitness is the ability of the teacher to be aware of all of the activities and behaviors occurring in the classroom at a given time. Overlapping is the ability of the teacher to process cognitively two or more classroom situations simultaneously (Van der Sijde & Tomic, 1993). Overlapping and withitness are considered to be interrelated (Van der Sijde & Tomic, 1993).

Kounin (1970) indicated that an effective classroom manager was someone who, among other things, exhibited substantial ability in these two areas. Some studies had indicated that it was difficult to effectively define ways to measure these two aspects of classroom management (Copland, 1983; Irving & Martin, 1982; Van der Sijde & Tomic, 1993). This made incorporating these aspects of classroom management into teacher training more problematic (Irving & Martin, 1982).

Despite the issue of effectively defining withitness and overlapping, these two aspects of classroom or lab management had gained wide acceptance as areas for teachers to focus upon and make improvements in (Brophy, 1983). Though they appeared to have significant relevance to my lab management situation, issues relating to withitness and overlapping in a career and technical education environment were not discussed.

Management of classroom computers

When classroom or lab management is considered, the inclusion of computers adds more complexity. Most studies revealed complaints of insufficient numbers of computers and the excessive time wasted moving to and from a computer lab (Strudler, Mckinney, Jones, Quinn, 1999) Another management issue rose out of computer use for drill and practice where students game the system (Baker, Corbett, Kenneth, Koedinger, Wagner, 2004). Gaming the system is a term that refers to the ability that students manifest in completing a computer practice exercise without knowing the material concepts that are supposed to be required for successful exercise completion.

Gaming the system can be a concern with the use of some learning objects. This was not a concern for my construction training because the types of learning objects that would be included were not vulnerable to this student behavior.

My computer management would not be affected by concerns about computer access. The collection of several old computers for exclusive use in my lab made this problem irrelevant.

Discussions examining how repairing and maintaining computers, and creating and installing files, could influence classroom management were not accessible. These aspects of computer management would have been relevant to my study, as the rescued computers I used were no longer supported for maintenance by the school district.

Computer Assisted Instruction

The discussion of the use of learning objects and computers was part of a larger domain of educational concern known as Computer Assisted Instruction (CAI). The effects of CAI upon learning outcomes had been a matter of debate since the latter quarter of the twentieth century (Clark, 1983, 1994; Hastings & Tracey, 2005, Kozma, 1991, 1994; Kulik & Kulik, 1991). As this technology improved and the precision of its application within the classroom increased, gains in learning, that could only be attributed to the use of computers and related media, had been noted (Hastings & Tracey, 2005; Kulik & Kulik 1991; Snow, 2003). Snow (2003) stated that a meta-analysis of research regarding the use of CAI indicated that it could be an effective resource, except in reading and writing, in helping at-risk students make academic gains.

At-Risk Students in Career and Technical Education

It is the at-risk students in my construction lab who often pose the greatest challenge to my lab and instructional management approach. These students can range from 5 to 40 percent of the class composition.

Poor grades, truancy and disciplinary problems are prominent characteristics of at-risk students and were indicators of student disengagement from a portion of the school setting (Miller, Leinhardt, Zigmond, 1988). Oakes and Guiton (1995) reported that vocational classes were often perceived as the default "dumping grounds" for low achieving students, especially those with behavioral problems.

My own experiences in the vocational setting had left me with the same impression. Jeff Claus’ (1990) qualitative study, of managing a food service vocational educational program in New York State , that had several at-risk students, mirrored some of my experiences. The study also described some of the strategies that I had adopted in the past in working with classes consisting of several at-risk students. In the study, Claus (1990) observed teachers frequently used negotiating as part of the classroom management strategy to reduce behavior difficulties. In Claus’ view, this led to excessive dependence upon the teachers and avoidance of critical thinking and decision making on the part of students.

This study did not include any discussion of the use of computers or learning objects as assistive tools in helping at-risk students become independent thinkers. The study’s ratio of girls to boys (eight males, 12 females) and the number of males in the class also did not align with my typical enrollment.

Age and Gender Considerations

Disruptions and disciplinary problems were not just characteristics of at-risk students. These problems were characteristics of adolescents in general. Steinberg and Cauffman (1996) asserted that, on average, persons who had not attained the age of 17 are not fully capable of adult moral decisions and therefore prone to poor behavioral choices. In this age group, the rate of risk taking peaks in late adolescence and the rates of various types of crimes amongst teens rises until it peeks at age 18 (Arnett, 1999).

In addition to adolescence, being male was also more frequently linked with unacceptable or criminal behavior (Steffensmeier & Allan 1996). Boys commited more acts of delinquency than girls (Shover, Norland, James, Thornton, 2001) Even when characteristics associated with childhood educational difficulties, such as hyperactivity-impulsivity and inattentiveness, for both genders were factored into the consideration, males were still likely to commit more crime than females (Babinski, Hartsough, Lambert, 1999).

While at-risk students might have been the most frequent source of disruptive behavior, the not at-risk adolescent male population in a typical construction class I teach is also responsible for a good portion of instructional interference. When issues of age, number of males, ratio of males to females, and risk for dropping out of school were considered together, no study of classroom management phenomena appeared to be that closely representative of the challenges I face.

Summary

How could all these isolated portions of information about learning objects, the Project Method, classroom management, CAI, and student characteristics be made into a comprehensive whole? The process had to begin with the two aspects of classroom management of withitness and overlapping. These teacher abilities were not sufficient in themselves to create a well-managed classroom where learning could take place. They were dependent upon thorough instructional planning, as well as established classroom routines that minimized loss of time and enabled smooth instructional transitions (Bear, 1998; Bropy, 1983).

Planning the activities for a construction lab to increase the likelihood that withitness and overlapping could be used effectively was quite different from a math class or even a laboratory science class. Long range planning had to occur to insure that the course could be adequately supplied for the entire year, as funds must usually be committed within the first few weeks of the school year.

In response to this constraint, it occurred to me several years ago that I should design low-cost activities which provided incremental training. This allowed me to predict what my annual instructional expenses would be. It also gave both my students and me a concrete focal point for skills training.

I was not aware, back then, that I had embarked upon using the project method. I cannot say that it is implemented exactly like Calvin Woodward’s Manual Training School . Progress through my construction training took several semesters of exposure before I was satisfied that students could be trusted not to turn out expensive scraps. Students in my lower levels of construction training did not have a choice about which projects they could choose to satisfy course requirements. It is in the latter semesters, when students could make more individual choices about what projects to work on and what skills to apply, that my courses more closely resembled the project method and PBL.

It was in my lower level classes with younger male and at-risk students where many of my behavioral problems were most acute. The use of the project method was a helpful organizational tool for planning construction training. Using it increased my chance to engage in withitness and overlapping. However, using the project method was not sufficient to reduce undesirable behavior to the extent that I desired.

It is at this point that the use of computers, with digitized multimedia learning objects, in my lab came into consideration. With this classroom management device, I was essentially seeking to replicate myself, to a small extent, through the creation of digitized video demonstrations.

I did not believe that the use of such learning objects would transform my construction students into the self-regulated, self-motivated learners that Ausburn (2002) envisioned. Research indicated that the metacognitive skills of students in career and technical education courses were insufficiently developed to allow for adequate self-directed progress (Warner, Christie, and Choy, 1998) (Smith, 2003).

A study of students using software for science investigation (Azevedo et al., 2005) indicated that self-regulation had to be supplemented with external regulation for optimal results. It also indicated that students did acquire and use some self-regulation skills (Azevedo et al., 2005). This indicated to me that students using learning objects in my construction lab setting would probably require my assistance and motivating supervision, but could also have an opportunity to display self regulation which was a concern of the Claus (1990) study.

Using learning objects in the lab had the potential to allow my attention to be more global; it could enhance my withitness and overlapping. In addition, it could add further to the thoroughness of the planning aspect of classroom management.

I deduced that because at-risk students showed gains when CAI is considered as whole, they could be receptive to using a computer for training purposes and might stay in contact with the instruction to acquire significant amounts of information. As the content of the proposed learning objects would require a minimal amount of reading and writing, I anticipated that those created for my lab would be supportive of at-risk students.

It was my belief that using learning objects in association with a hybrid of the project method in my construction lab management scheme had the potential to enhance the level of instructional planning and organization. It could also release time that formally could not be devoted to lab surveillance, withitness, and overlapping. This surveillance is sorely needed considering the size, age and gender characteristics of my typical lower level construction classes. The net effect on educating students, especially at-risk students, was that they could become more self-regulating, and engage in more critical thinking and decision making. They could acquire more and higher quality education because less disruption would occur. Because of this potential, I believed this warranted further study.

Such a study could make beneficial contributions to the understanding of classroom management and the practice of teaching. It could provide insight into the merits of using learning objects and computers as part of a classroom or lab management scheme. It could indicate whether the inclusion of learning objects in course content would be accepted by high school students in a career and technology education setting. It might point the way toward future instructional trends in construction training practices.

 

Methods

I elected to investigate the relationship that learning objects had to the management scheme of my construction lab through a type of qualitative research known as ethnography. This study concentrated upon the shared experiences that I and my students had in my construction training lab before and after learning objects were introduced in the training process. I sought to follow the prescription that Hughes, King, Rodden, and Andersen (1994) give regarding ethnographic research; it should create a picture of life as seen through the perspective of the participants within the setting of the study.

During the span of the study, I kept a journal of my experiences as a construction instructor. To verify that experiences I recorded provided a holistic picture of the effect that learning objects had upon my lab management scheme, I had planned to collate these experiences with statements that students make during weekly meetings with me. As an additional measure, the quality of the workmanship that is produced by the students was checked for consistency over time.

From the data collected, I sought to determine what, if any, changes occurred in my classroom management activities and the subsequent student response to those actions. If significant changes had occurred, I planned to determine if they could be attributed to the inclusion of learning objects in my construction management scheme.

Setting

The study was conducted in the construction lab in which I teach. The lab was part of a comprehensive high school in Northeast Georgia . The high school was located in a rural area of the state. It is surrounded by middle to upper middle income communities. The school was ethnically mixed with the most prominent minority group being Hispanic. I chose this setting because my construction training environment required the least amount of preparation time and expenditures for the purposes of my study.

I considered the possibility of asking another teacher to use the training materials that I had developed. The difficulty in pursuing that possibility lay in the fact that, like me, each construction teacher developed his own instructional plan based upon the unique set of circumstances he faced. The course structure that I had developed was tailored for my personality, my management style, and even my available resources and annual budget.

The purpose of the study was to explore what happened to my classroom management experience when my students used learning objects, developed by me to meet curriculum needs, within a first semester level of my construction training program. It was within this training level that had the greatest number of students and behavioral issues.

I observed lab activities, student behavior, and evaluated student project workmanship. Student opinions were solicited and their observations were collected. During the course of this investigation I sought information to answer questions which included:

  • Did there seem to be a perceptible difference in my ability to manage the construction lab when I relied upon learning objects to deliver technical information?
  • Did the students appear to accept learning objects as a viable way to obtain relevant information about project processes?
  • When learning objects are implemented, what kind of workmanship quality did the students produce?
  • How much and what kind of supplemental student support did I need to add when learning objects were implemented?

Materials

The training exercises that I developed and sequenced in a manner similar to the project method were designed primarily for this training level. Each project consumed approximately one to five class periods to complete and required the use of one or two new skills in conjunction with some skills previously mastered. The learning objects that were used in this study were demonstrations of new skills and the best approach for completing the practice exercises within this training level.

Design and Procedure

The study had two stages. In the first stage, learning objects were not used. Instead, content in the form of technical demonstrations was delivered to the entire class face to face. In the second stage, the students were directed to use the learning objects.

At the onset of each project, the new skills would be demonstrated and any relevant diagrams, drawings, and written instructions were posted on a display board. The most straight forward method to accomplish this during stage one was to have the students gather around an observation area while I performed the processes that I wanted the students to be able to replicate.

During that demonstration, I provided information about safety procedures and orally described my reasoning as the demonstration progressed. I also called attention to the focal area that I wanted them to observe.

After a demonstration had been given, students were issued appropriate materials and allowed to have access to hand tools and portable power tools. They executed the project that was featured in the demonstration. I was available to answer questions and engaged in mini-demonstrations to support the students’ efforts at skills acquisition. Although I originally planned to have a proficient peer at some times assist the occasional questioning student, especially one who was absent on the day when a demonstration was given, I scrapped that plan when I considered student safety.

When the second stage of the study was initiated, the learning objects were loaded onto two computers with sound capabilities. These computers had been incorporated into the construction lab in an area that was separate from where construction activities took place. The construction lab computers were not connected to the internet, so the learning objects were a set of archived digitized video files, pre-loaded on the computers, which were available for student access.

I was the featured presenter on the learning object demonstrations in the second stage of the study. The video had a similar demonstration format to that of the face-to-face demonstration, with a few important exceptions. In the video demonstrations just a small portion of my body, such as a hand or an arm, was visible. Instead of my having to call attention to a focal area, the video demonstration featured an enlarged area of observation. In the construction lab, the video demonstrations were available for viewing from a seated position and more than one student viewed the content at the same time. The students were allowed to have repeated access to the learning objects throughout their execution of their project. The diagrams, drawings, and written instructions that were associated with the project were posted on a display board.

As stage two of the study was implemented, I was available to answer questions as students worked on their projects. If a question had already been answered in the learning object demonstration, the student was referred back to the video demonstration. I had planned to assist the students in finding the specific information on the learning object, if needed, but that was not necessary. I directly answered questions about content that was unaddressed to the student’s satisfaction in the learning object. An absent student, who is behind the rest of the class’s previous progress, was able to access the learning object upon his arrival.

I used observations as a data collection technique to provide an understanding of the conditions that existed in my construction lab prior to and during the time that learning objects were introduced as a primary source for technical information to complete lab activities.

Ethical Considerations

To initiate the process for conducting the study in my teaching setting, I obtained permission from the appropriate authorities within the system prior to the study’s initiation.

Pseudonyms were used to protect students’ identity. No specific student quotations or other personal information was included in the study.

I monitored the quantity and quality of workmanship that the students produced. As the projects were submitted for evaluation, I assessed them according to the workmanship quality that was described in the demonstration and written instructions. I evaluated quantity and quality over time by checking to see if the number of acceptable project submittals changed during each stage.

Data Collection Strategies

Throughout the time span of the study, I kept a log of recollections about the student management activities in which I engaged. Through this ongoing journaling, I documented events and my responses in my construction lab.

To validate my observations of lab management, I obtained commentary from students. These comments were in the form of observations and opinions about their experiences in the construction lab. I had planned for this collection of commentary to be elicited from the students in the two stages of the study. The first stage was to be the collection of commentary and opinions during the time period that learning objects were not being used in the construction lab. The second collection stage was to occur when learning objects were being used.

A major impediment during the study was to obtain students’ substantial and cross-sectional commentary. Based upon past experiences, I expect the students to not be adequately forthcoming if asked to write about their opinions and experiences. Although I frequently had a few very capable and literate students in my class, the majority were incapable or unwilling to adequately express themselves in writing to the extent I was seeking.

I noticed that the same students were usually able to express themselves adequately when speaking. For this reason, to obtain a much richer and in-depth commentary, I intended to hold class discussions and video tape them. These discussions were planned to occur at the end of class at set intervals such as on a Tuesday and a Thursday of each week. In this manner I planned to elicit adequate commentary in a short amount of time and was not concerned with taking dictation.

I was compelled to make a change in my plan which is described in the narrative of my study. I continued with my plan to use open ended questioning to obtain responses that were not coerced. The class responses were monitored to insure that reticent students, or those who may had academic or behavioral issues, were also included in the response solicitation. This was done by a show of upraised hands. Questions were directed towards students’ impression of and preference for a particular instructional delivery method.

Data Analysis

The tapes were reviewed and relevant student comments were archived and compared with the observation notes. As trends and themes appeared to emerge in my observations compared to student comments, they were indexed categorically. This comparison was developed and reported in this study.

Limitations of the Study

The characteristics of each study group changed over time. As described later in the study, some of the key actors during the study either stopped coming to school or got into so much trouble that they were compelled to control their behavior or risk removal from the school. This influenced how difficult it was to manage each class.

Another contributing factor to the study’s limitations is the fact that the lab environment changed during the course of the study. My other class, that was not part of the study, worked on several large-scale projects. Gradually, a good portion of the lab space was consumed by items being built and the materials that needed to be temporarily stored. It is likely that this had a psychological effect upon the members of the classes being studied.

Over time the projects that the students encountered in the course became more demanding upon students. This change was most pronounced in the second phase of data collection. This may also have had some undetermined underlying effect upon students that skewed results.

The ambient noise level of the lab activities was described as an interfering phenomenon in the use of the video demonstrations. This may have produced discouragement on the part of impatient learners. It may have also influenced the accuracy of information that the students received and acted upon.

The format of the learning object was a series of slides accompanied with narration. Several students in the morning class indicated that they thought a motion picture format would have been preferable. It is possible that the students could not envision the movements and manipulations that would have been necessary to carry out the processes depicted in the slides. When the afternoon class was asked about still versus motion for a video format, the class was ambivalent.

The learning objects may have been ignored as an electronic media source because they lacked what I will call the “ Sesame Street ” factor. By this I mean commercially available educational products for children from preschool into the teenage years have been designed for maximum marketing appeal. These products contain flashy color fields, deliberate exaggeration of concept presentations, a rapid pace, and sometimes rely upon name or personality recognition.

My learning object creations had none of these competitive features. It is possible that for young participants in this study there was an expectation, like a conditioned reaction to educational media, to see some sort of high energy or intense stimulation. My learning objects may have been ignored, at the subconscious level by some students, not based upon content but upon format.

Despite these limitations I remain convinced that this study provided valuable information about how the use of learning objects could influence a construction lab management scheme. It can also provided insight into the receptivity of students to the use of learning objects
.

 

Results and Discussion

Introduction

My primary goal in creating learning objects for use in construction training was to find a means to significantly reduce undesirable student behavior which interfered with instructional delivery. In past years, this behavior had been significant in scope and compromised lab safety.

I extrapolated from early attempts using an analog video format providing instruction about woodworking machinery that digital videos could provide tangible improvements in my ability to sustain withitness and overlapping. If these aspects of my lab management could be sufficiently increased, a possibility of reducing unwanted behavior and disruption existed.

I was also seeking to expand the training video format to train students in the use of various tools through the production of several small projects. The projects were designed to use combinations of real-world construction techniques.

Data Collection Context

Data collection occurred in one construction laboratory environment in two different classes. One first semester construction class was held from 8:30 to 10:00 AM , the other was taught from 2:00 to 3:30 PM .

The morning class had an enrollment of 27 and the afternoon class had 25. I had no females in either class. Based upon previous experiences, I expected these two classes would be the most challenging to manage. These were my largest classes and were composed of a large group of students I did not initially know.

The afternoon class was atypical for a class in that time slot. I had an unusually larger number of higher functioning students in that class the first semester. There were 11 out of 25 students in the afternoon class versus 8 out of 27 in the morning class. My basis for this assertion is the number of students in the class whose (a) classroom work test scores were consistently 80% or above, (b) who produced consistently good workmanship throughout the data collection period, and (c) who evidenced desirable self control.

Because each class has it own distinctive personality, or feel, I concluded that the best approach in data collection would be to give both classes the same treatment in the same sequence. At the start of the research, both classes received live demonstrations of the projects for the first half of the study’s time span. When Phase 2 began, for the duration of the study, both classes used the learning objects I had created.

Data Collection Phase 1

When data collection for Phase 1 began, I conducted demonstrations of how the projects were to be undertaken at one of the lab worktables. Students were to gather around the table to view the demonstration.

My experience during this phase played out as I had encountered dozens of times before in previous years. I had to wait to begin the demonstration until everyone had moved into a position where they could see the important features of the demonstration.

This took several minutes because some of the students would deliberately stay as far back as they thought I would tolerate. At the beginning of each demonstration, I had to insist that some students reposition themselves.

Sometimes, constrained by a need to avoid delay, I proceeded with the demonstration even though the relocating students’ position was changed but not better. Through experience, I came to realize that delay caused more students to lose focus on my instruction. There was a risk that others would decide to misbehave if allowed time to contemplate the possibility.

Once underway, I had to stop the demonstrations when I became aware that the class was distracted by conversation or subversive behavior. I had to remind the class that they were not going to proceed into the lab activities until I had finished my demonstration. I did not continue my demonstration until I had their attention.

Frequently I had to call out the offender(s). I hoped that peer pressure would be sufficient to get the person(s) back in line.

Usually peer pressure did help as most of the students were anxious to get busy. On three occasions, twice in the morning and once in the afternoon, a student enjoyed his power over the group and prolonged his distracting behavior. The interference/disruption game was played out in both classes at least once and sometimes up to three times in all but the first demonstration.

During the hour long lab activity time, there were three constants. I had to manage all student activities while engaged in giving more demonstrations, or grading student work, or distributing project parts.

Like the start of a marathon race, all the students began together at the onset of the semester. As time went on there became a greater disparity between those that were finished and ready to proceed to the next project, and those who were still in process.

In both classes receiving treatments, I provided filler work for early finishers. I did this to delay the performance of the next demonstration. I wanted to have the maximum number of students ready for advancement. Stragglers did not retain the elements of a demonstration when it was given several days prior to their starting the next project.

Students lagged behind for several reasons. Even with their best efforts, some students were not adept in the manual arts while others excelled at them. Several could have been more productive but chose not to take the demonstrations seriously enough and got bogged down because they missed key information.

A few took the “race between the tortoise and the hare” approach. When I challenged them, they expressed confidence that they were skilled enough to catch up to the others. With extended postponement, forgetfulness and uncertainty would often creep in.

Three of my students in the morning class and four in the afternoon class had been conferred with an exceptional child status because of their easy distractibility. Other students’ language skills were below grade level. To avoid accusations of unfairness, I did not try to discriminate between them and others who should have been verbally chastised for their lack of progress due to character flaws. With safety a concern, and to keep as many on task as possible, students asking for assistance were given refresher demonstrations or verbal reviews. At times, unsolicited demonstrations had to be given to correct well intended but erroneous actions. This combination of needs meant that I had to repeat the same information given in the demonstration at least five to ten times.

I also graded project work while lab activity occurred. I did this to provide immediate feedback. I have found, through my past experiences, that I needed to take the time with the submitting students to evaluate completed projects while the experience was still fresh in their minds. In this way, the review of qualities my grade was based upon and my suggestions for improvement could have maximum benefit.

After a demonstration was completed and the project activity commenced, for one or two days I spent about one fifth of the lab time distributing parts. I stored these in my office along with tools I wanted to be certain would not suffer abuse.

Budgetary constraints would not allow students to have an unlimited supply of materials. The students were told that they would only be issued the materials for one project attempt. It would be necessary to pay careful attention to the demonstrations, work cautiously, and recheck measurements.

Because of this limitation, a student in my lab that made a legitimate effort to complete a project did not receive a failing project grade despite workmanship that did not meet trade standards. Even though my grading was lenient, and had always been my grading policy, I found in past years that I could not allow students to have free access to materials.

The difficulty I encountered when students had free access to materials was that many students took more than their allotment. I did not want to be tied up with such minutia. Prior to the study, even when I had attempted to put responsible students in charge of distribution, they were either conned out of materials or had been too soft-hearted to refuse a request.

As a work-around, some of the filler activities for early project completers included parts division into student portions. When I responded to a request for project parts I could go to my office, grab a student’s portion, and get back out into the lab.

The start of a new project was chaotic because of parts distribution. If I attempted to deliver them while students were seated, the parts became drum sticks. The racket of 5 to 15 students ensued.

If parts were distributed immediately before use, then I was swarmed or followed like a mother duck with her ducklings. These clamoring students blocked my view or distracted me from my intent to keep monitoring the lab area.

The unscheduled demonstrations, project grading, and parts distribution were conducted in the presence of three distinct student groups. There was a group of students working towards completing their projects. On any given day, there were also two randomly organized student groups with interchangeable members. I had to stay appraised of their activities.

There was always one group of students milling around. They wasted time talking. Another group, with another agenda during lab time, was the same three to five students displaying the tendency to engage in horseplay or minor vandalism.

From past years experience, I have deduced that students who were engaged in their assignments were not looking at me to see what I am doing or who I might be looking at. Those caught frequently looking at me are seeking to warn a friend that my attention is in that direction, or they were trying to gauge when they might be able to start or continue misbehaving.

Monitoring the teacher’s whereabouts was the frequent behavior of the horseplay group and, to a lesser extent, the talker’s group. That was one of the behaviors I keyed in on in order to identify these groups. Each group would disband when challenged or when I moved closer to it. Sometimes this was sufficient to get most of those students on task. In several instances the students would coalesce again soon after my attention was diverted to other supervisory tasks.

While constantly aware of these groups, I conducted the demonstrations, grading, and parts distribution, and monitored the lab activities. At times, I would be talking to the student needing attention but would not be looking at him. I would be looking around the lab to keep students on the alert that I was watching them. My intention was to keep students on edge about what I was aware of in the lab, thus keeping their behavior circumspect.

Because proper technique such as component and tool manipulation must be demonstrated with focused attention, I was constrained to narrow my view upon what was immediately in front of me when I was demonstrating. I needed to maintain safety and to insure that I modeled techniques accurately. I tried to compress the customized demonstrations as much as possible because of my dread that students, not closely supervised, could get hurt or misbehave.

At the end of the first phase of data collection, some students were two projects behind because of absences or having a slower learning pace.

One student in the first period class was a chronic unexcused absentee. In the afternoon class a student was receiving almost daily medical treatments and therefore left class early.

Inevitably, it seemed, these students would be absent when I gave a new project demonstration. I was constrained to provide a customized demonstration for these students to keep them busy. I could not delegate the demonstration to a knowledgeable student because of the need to insure thorough safety instruction in order to avoid liability issues should an accident occur.

Data Collection Phase 2

The use of learning objects allowed me to avoid a problem. Because of increasing complexity, my projects required the use of tools or fixtures of which I did not have a supply sufficient enough to accommodate all 25 plus students in both classes. I was compelled to run two to three projects within the same class at the same time.

Having had to do this in prior years, I knew I could expect difficulties in student recollection. In the past, classes would be divided into two groups, each with a different project to complete. Two back- to- back demonstrations had to be given to the entire class. After viewing the demonstrations, the groups would begin. Early finishers in each group would cross over and begin work on the other project. Gradually all class members would complete both projects. As more time passed, errors increased because the correct techniques or task sequence were forgotten or mentally garbled.

I anticipated that in moving into the second phase, much of the difficulty in recollection would be eliminated. After initially viewing the video, the students could return as often as necessary to refresh their recollections.

When the data collection moved into the second phase the students who were lagging behind were no longer a major concern. I could direct then to watch the appropriate project video. At one point, I found the afternoon student who frequently left for medical treatments and was still behind the progress of the rest of the class sitting in front of one of the computers with his current project sitting to the side. He was trying to work on the project as the video was playing. I had to insist that he move to a worktable to avoid damaging the computer equipment and to keep from monopolizing the workstation that other students needed to have access to.

The use of learning objects did not do away with lab management difficulties and setbacks. A new problem emerged that I could not address during the study.

Students who performed at average or above on portions of the course that required traditional academic metacognitive skills, such as self pacing and commitment to thoroughness and excellence, were able to be patient enough to watch the videos and complete projects with a minimal amount of intervention. Their workmanship quality would meet construction standards or be close to it.

Students who did not display those metacognitive skills tended to ignore the videoed demonstrations in favor of attempting to guess at the correct approach. Many of them seemed to wait to begin until they could watch or ask a student who appeared to know what he was doing. Usually they chose to rely on one of their buddies. In several instances the results were akin to those depicted in Pieter Brueghel the elder’s 1568 painting of The Blind Leading the Blind. What made matters worse was that the disinformation seemed to be compounded over time.

During Phase 1, while grading I detected a few attempts at copying another student’s work or methods and the resultant use of disinformation. This was not as frequent as it was in Phase 2. What reduced the amount of information degradation under Phase 1 was the fact that they were able to get a repeat demonstration performance from me when they encountered a problem. They balked when I insisted, during Phase 2, that they could get the information from the video and realized that no personalized demonstration was forthcoming.

I found during the grading process, when I asked about how video use had contributed to their project’s results, several producers of low quality projects had not viewed the relevant video. This reception of learning objects occurred despite the fact that both live demonstrations and the video demonstrations took the same amount of time to view and I was the speaker in both situations. I was not able to come up with an adequate means to compel the students to view, and benefit from, the videos.

My assessment of the amount of quality workmanship produced was that it remained consistent from Phase 1 through Phase 2. The students, who could not produce good quality workmanship under the first phase of the treatment, were unable to do any better under the second part of the treatment. They did not do any worse either.

Other aspects about lab management remained constant from phase to phase. There were parts to distribute, and projects that were graded. The three group phenomenon continued to exist. I had instances of serious behavior problems to deal with.

I did experience an increase in withitness and overlapping. Demonstrations did not have to be repeated to the same extent as in the first phase. Freed to keep a better watch on the entire lab, I was able to more consistently track the behaviors of students who gave me cause for concern. This improvement was not sufficient to prevent severe misconduct that occurred during the application of the treatments and the collection of data.

Incidents of Misbehavior

Behaviors in the Morning Class . At the start of Phase 1 I had a student, known as Ronnie for the purposes of this study, who came into my first period class three days after the start of school. He had been in a level one class in an afternoon time slot in the second semester of the previous year. He was identified as an exceptional child. This was a slight misnomer as he was 18. He had been a behavioral challenge as had many others in that class.

When the morning class was dismissed to start the first project, he turned on a saw that level one students were not permitted to operate. I did not see him do this, but in recognizing the sound of the saw I knew immediately where to look and how gauge how far the person seeking to elude suspicion could have traveled. Ronnie was the only one who fit my expectation.

I sat the entire class back down and warned it that the next such incident would result in a week’s worth of classroom work exclusively. I wanted peer pressure to help me prevent Ronnie or others who might follow his example in a repeat performance.

Before Ronnie had a chance to misbehave any further, he transferred to the school he had come from in the previous year. This was due to his father’s declining health.

A few days after that incident with Ronnie, the class was working on its second and third projects under Phase 1. I stayed tied up with demonstrations and parts distribution. A student I will call Bill decided that one of my wood glue containers needed to be slashed with a knife that was used and remained in the lab.

While I was moving to a different observational vantage point, closer to students that needed to be made nervous, I noticed the bottle hemorrhaging the yellow liquid on a worktable top.

I had the students return to their seats and announced that we would commence with our one week’s worth of class work. I heard several exclamations seeking to know if I would accept the identification of the culprit in lieu of the seat work. I said that I would and we played the “cheese game.”

All students were told to write the name of the person who they had seen cutting the container on a piece of paper and then fold it. If they had seen no one, they were to write the words “I don’t know” on the paper and turn it in. In this way, the guilty person could not easily determine who to retaliate against if he was revealed.

Bill’s name came up on six sheets, so to the office he went. The assistant principal in charge of disciplining sophomores was conned by Bill, who ended up receiving a minor in-school suspension and was not ordered to replace the value of the damaged item.

After the in-school suspension was served, Bill returned to class but continued not do his class work and was consistently found in one of my “needs to be watched” groups. Prior to the container incident, Bill had been suspended by another assistant principal responsible for freshmen discipline.

When the data collection moved into the second phase, he got into trouble but not while the class was engaged in lab activities. He hit me in the crotch with a paper hornet, a tightly rolled and folded paper cylinder propelled by a rubber band. I had dealt with several of these items in the afternoon class three days prior and thought that the activity had played itself out.

I did not actually see him do the shooting but saw the blur come from his direction and received confirmation through initiating the cheese game once again. Bill saw the inevitable and confessed before pen was put to paper.

He claimed that he was actually aiming at another student and did not intend to be disrespectful towards me. Nevertheless, I sent him for his third time to the freshmen assistant principal.

Towards the end of Phase 2 collection, Bill got into another fight in the school’s cafeteria. He was suspended for seven days for that incident. Any further serious infractions on his part meant that he would be barred from further school attendance for that school year. Bill’s behavior from that time forward was much subdued.

The morning class of past years was usually the more sedate one of the three I taught each day. Students were not as awake as they were later in the day. In that regard, the morning class under study was similar to previous morning classes. I did not deal with any other major incidents during the study period. During the second phase I had a few students that gave me some concerns but I was able to keep good oversight upon manageable student behavior. I credit the use of learning objects for some of that success.

Behaviors in the Afternoon Class . Despite the larger number of higher achieving students compared to the morning class, I had more incidents to deal with in the afternoon session. The first incident involved another repeating student from that previous semester’s afternoon class.

Last year, Bob, his name for this study, had been even more of a behavior management problem for me than Ronnie. Once, when he had been disciplined due to my referral, he angrily confronted me, demanding that I rescind my referral, which I refused to do.

Bob tangled with Allen. Allen, also not his real name, was a freshman. He displayed antisocial behavior from the first day of school. He would be dismantling a pen or some similar small object at his desk when he was supposed to be doing class work. He acted as if he could not hear me or did not understand me when I would politely yet firmly tell him to get back on task. At times he would turn in work and other times there would be nothing from him.

The incident occurred about two weeks into the start of the semester. I had to step into my office to obtain a paper for another student toward the end of the class period. The class was seated as was my standard procedure prior to dismissal. I heard a commotion coming from the back part of the class area and observed students were looking toward where Bob and Allen were sitting.

By the time I emerged from my office, whatever was taking place had stopped. Bob complained that Allen had hit him in the back with a student desk. This was verified by the student witnesses.

The assistant principal responsible for freshmen discipline had to deal with the situation. She discovered that during the altercation Bob had pushed Allen up against the wall and had held him by the throat prior to the desk being used.

The assistant principal did not tell me what had provoked the incident. She did show me a thick file folder on her desk and indicated that Allen’s middle school disciplinary record contained more of the same behavioral descriptions.

Bob was issued a three day in-school suspension for his part in the incident. He quit school a few days later, never serving the suspension.

Allen was given a five day out of school suspension for his more serious offence. A few days after he returned to school, he struck another student in the ear with a stick, causing the student’s ear to bleed.

This also occurred during Phase 1. It happened while the class was engaged in lab activities. I was assisting another student and saw the tail end of what happened.

The same assistant principal metered out a seven day suspension to Allen, but was also compelled to discipline the other student with a five day suspension. He had been goaded by insults about his mother into a physical response. The student had struck Allen first who, in turn, felt justified to retaliate with the stick. Both students went to juvenile court for the incident.

I made the comment to the assistant principal that Allen did not need to be in my class. Two days later, she came to me and stated that another teacher had agreed to take Allen into a solely classroom environment. On the day he returned, the assistant principal came to me once again and said that, because the court had arbitrated the situation between Allen and the other student, Allen was returning to my class.

Allen returned at the beginning of Phase 2 of my data collection. I had two projects in process. One project was the assembling of a simple electrical circuit; the other was the assembly of a small wooden box with a sliding lid that required the use of a hammer and some small nails.

As Phase 2 began, despite the availability of the learning objects, I found it was difficult to monitor Allen’s behavior. This was because I had to constantly respond to the myriad other requests for project parts and stay current with project grading.

Three days after the start of the second phase of my data collection, some students had finished the first of the pair of projects and wanted to proceed to the next one. I was in the midst of the grading process.

I observed that Allen was engaged in working on his project. His methods were not in keeping with the video explanation, were unorthodox, but were logical for the task at hand. I made a positive comment about his creativity in the hope that he would stay engaged in the assignment.

I turned my attention for a brief time to respond to more requests and to continue grading. A few minutes later a distraught student came up to me. He asked me if there was a hole in his head and indicated that I should look on his forehead. I saw only the faintest of marks and told him his wound was not severe.

I thought he had been hit by someone’s small nail that probably went flying off when improperly struck. He seemed unconsoled as he walked away.

I turned to respond to another student’s needs. A minute later, the complaining student came back stating that he found the nail that had struck him. As I turned to listen to him I could see a severe angry red welt where the nail had struck him while he showed me a large nail that had been bent into a tight U shape. It was a metal version of a paper hornet. The intensity of his complaining had not been in keeping with the force that he must have been struck with. I immediately exclaimed that I wanted to know who had done this.

A student standing close by said that he had seen what had happened. He then explained that Allen had waited until my attention was diverted, had taken the bent nail and launched it with a big rubber band. The nail had struck the other student in the forehead. The student was a random target.

This time the administrator had Allen permanently removed from the school and placed in an alternative educational setting. In her interrogation of Allen, she discovered that another student had taken matters into his own hands and had punched Allen in the face breaking his glasses. I was unaware of this incident. The vigilante, who was making good progress in the course and not considered an at-risk student, was given a five day out-of-school suspension. This second student was not normally a behavioral problem in the lab.

At 45 school days into the study, and five days before my study concluded, I dealt with my last major incident. The last project featured on video entailed the use of one half inch copolyvinyl chloride, CPVC, plumbing pipe.

This was an ideal material to use as a blowgun to propel roofing nails. Through lab monitoring, I caught three students in the act of shooting nails across the room. In the process of dealing with the situation, I found out that a student had also been targeted.

The same assistant principal who dealt with the prior incidents had to deal with the last offenders. She also had to deal with a serious situation that occurred on a school bus that involved some of the pipe.

A fourth student had taken a piece of pipe and some nails and given them to another student who was not in the class. The other student had pelted fellow bus riders. The passenger complaints plus the bus video tape revealed who that outside offender was.

An About Face

Ironically, as a consequence of the volume and severity of the discipline that she metered out to students in my classes, the assistant principal appealed to the principal for a video surveillance system to be installed in my lab. She told me to research the cost and report to her. I had not had the chance to complete her directive at the time of this writing.

Obtaining Student Responses

I did not receive an official sanction from the school district to conduct this research until the first phase was over. I felt it prudent not to interview students during that time, but I did keep a journal of observations from the onset of the semester. I felt I would be entitled to do this as a conscientious teacher, even if research was not being conducted.

To respond to this minor setback, I changed my planned inclusion of student opinions and comments to a one time occurrence at the end of the study and to questioning as I was grading. I collected comments in two videotaped sessions, one for each class being observed. I made notes of student responses when grading occurred.

The collective voice of each class was almost completely opposite of the other. In the morning class about three quarters of the class preferred the use of the live demonstrations as their means for getting the information. Several responses indicated that the videos were too long or boring.

I indicated that the live demonstrations were just as long or longer in duration. The personal feel and/or the action of the live demonstrations is what appealed to them. They also indicated that it was too noisy in the lab to clearly hear the presentations.

I objected to the students by pointing out the class’s general rudeness toward me when I attempted to conduct the live demonstrations. Their response was that I should just meter out discipline and move on. Those that got the information could progress and those that did not, well too bad.

The suggestion was made that I should create motion picture videos, or that I should use the live demonstrations and supplement them with the learning objects for recall assistance. The archived demonstrations, it was stated, could also be used for those who were absent.

The afternoon class, as a whole, expressed a preference for the learning object format because they could proceed to work on the projects at their own pace and repeatedly refer to the video for clarification. The students collectively responded, when queried, that they were able to hear the presentations sufficiently, although the volume had to be turned up quite a bit.

I noted with great interest that in both classes, the majority of those that expressed preferences for the live demonstrations were my marginal or poor performers and those that were behavioral challenges. I established this through a show of raised hands. Most of my higher functioning and better behaved students preferred the video format.

I also asked individual students as they were turning in their projects for grading whether they had viewed the video for the project or not. I believe I got honest answers.

Many students who stated that they did not watch the video turned in work that had mistakes on parts that the video specifically addressed. With just one or two exceptions, those who turned in acceptable to superlative work had taken the time to watch the video.

Some of the few students in both classes that were able to execute the projects well, even though they did not view the video, revealed that they had prior experiences with similar materials outside of the class. Other individuals were adept at picking up on the quality aspects of the project and appeared to be naturally inclined toward the use of manual arts after watching others.

Personal Preference

Both the live demonstrations and the learning object demonstrations ran about five to ten minutes in length. I preferred the use of the learning object format even though it initially took much longer to create than the time needed to give a live demonstration. Preparation time of the learning objects was spent in a non-stressful environment. Once done, I did not have to repeat myself ad nauseam in the lab.

Students, whose attention seeking behavior included interrupting my live demonstrations, or being disrespectful, no longer had a venue in which to misbehave. Towards the end of the data collection time period, student behavior was much less difficult to manage. Conversely, without having to put out small behavioral fires, I became aware that the quality of my interactions and instruction were, to a limited extent, more pleasant and effective. I felt that I could keep up with all the requests that were frequently being brought to me.

The videoed demonstrations also provided a specific focal point for instructional improvement. If several students consistently needed help in understanding a portion of a video demonstration, I knew where to make editorial changes. Providing live demonstrations created more of a hit-and-miss instructional quality that was not consistent from class to class.

I chose to use a slide show format because it was the easiest to produce and edit. Creating motion pictures with sound was problematic for two reasons. The lab environment created undesirable sound results, and motion pictures were more difficult and time consuming to edit. If it was determined that new information needed to be inserted into a demonstration, it would not have been easy to accomplish in a motion picture format.

 

Conclusions

At the onset of this study, it was noted that Ausburn (2002) believed the demand for the use of learning objects by a technology savvy society, for instructional purposes, would continue to increase. I used this information as a springboard to investigate the use of learning objects.

I created four learning objects that aligned with Sosteric & Hesemeier’s (2002) definition and used them in my construction lab environment. These were designed to coincide with the use of sequential projects based upon the project method.

I had surmised that compared to the use of live project demonstrations, such use of learning objects could increase my withitness and overlapping as defined by Kounin (1970). Prior to the study, I felt that this increase could help to suppress student misbehavior and improve the instructional environment.

According to the behavioral results from this study, the use of learning objects did not sufficiently improve either my classroom or lab management. I believe that I had increases in withitness and overlapping, but not in sufficient amounts to make a difference given the environmental constraints I worked in.

As an additional touch of irony, the school’s administration reversed its stance regarding the use of a camera surveillance system in my lab based upon the number and type of behavioral incidents that occurred during this study. I do not believe this action reflected an opinion about my competence as a teacher. I contend that this was a recognition of how challenging it was to manage an educational environment such as the one I work in.

I continue to have confidence that learning objects can be used to provide information and enhance the management of a lab environment. Deployed in a different environment, the use of learning objects may be effective in increasing the ability of a teacher in managing a class. Considering (a) the size of the construction lab, (b) the number of large objects that could obscure viewing misbehavior, (c) the amount of tools and materials that had to be managed, (d) the lab housekeeping process, (e) the constant need to respond to student questioning, and (f) the extreme antisocial behavior of a few key individuals, all conspired to produce project quality results and student behavior results that did not differ between the two applied treatments.

One contention that could be raised is that the second phase of data collection included more complex projects, plus, two projects were in process at any given time. When this is considered, it is possible that if the learning objects had not been used at the time of the study, much more unacceptable behavior would have surfaced.

Several serious misbehavior incidents occurred when I used learning objects as part of a construction lab management scheme. When compared to all the activities that occurred in my lab, these were few and brief. Most of the time, I felt that I had a significant amount of activity control, and my interactions with students did improve in the second phase of the study.

Students who were intent on benefiting from the construction educational experience in my lab responded favorably to the use of learning objects. They were able to execute the projects with the same amount of effort that was required during the time when learning objects were not being used.

Those that did not enter the class with a focus on learning did not perform well on lab work in either data collection phase. They tended to resist, and expressed dissatisfaction with, the use of the learning objects as a delivery system for instructional information.

The learning objects did not anticipate the informational needs of all the students. There were times when I had to help individuals using brief verbal explanations. There were one or two instances during each project time period when a student needed to view an impromptu live demonstration for further clarification. These sessions were greatly reduced in frequency when compared with the number that I had to deliver after the initial live demonstrations during Phase 1.

Beyond the issue of the use of learning objects in my construction lab is the issue of the limit of the use of learning objects with certain types of students. Warner, Christie, and Choy(1998) and Smith(2003) indicated that the maturity level of metacognitive skills of the career and technical education student was often insufficient to enable him to be a self-directed learner. The response of many of my students to the use of learning objects indicates that these types of learners are resistant to acquiring and using metacognitive skills which would enable self-directed learning even using a novel approach toward self-direction.

In reporting the results of their research on the use of learning objects in a science class, Azevedo et al.(2005) indicated that some of the students in their study had to have teacher prodding to complete the learning activities. In my study I obtained similar results.

From my perspective, the use of learning objects to deliver construction training cannot be given an unreserved recommendation. Because educational efforts must encompass the needs of all learners, the use of learning objects for training students, such as those I teach, will have to undergo further study and refinement.

It may be that with expanded understanding, the use of learning objects for construction training can be made compatible with students who display lower levels of metacognitive skills. Based upon the results of my study, I do not believe that Ausburn’s (2002) observation can legitimately include learning objects produced in-house for construction training, because, at present, they are not compatible with learners having lower levels of metacognitive skills.

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