College of Agriculture, Engineering
and Science (CAES)

Effective Teaching in the Digital Age

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Ms Sarah Blewett is an MSc candidate in UKZN’s School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science. Her research focuses on online student engagement (OSE) with the aim of developing a model for predicting student success. She will be presenting at the Postgraduate Research and Innovation Symposium (PRIS 2021) hosted by UKZN’s College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science (CAES).

The new era of teaching and learning is an uncertain yet exciting one. Technology for teaching is no longer optional but, if it is not integrated correctly it can lead to disastrous results.

Blewett has a BSc (cum laude) in Computer Science and Information Technology and a BSc honours in Computer Science (summa cum laude). She is passionate about making an impact in e-learning and has been involved in pioneering work on effective digital-age teaching approaches. She is involved in training schools, universities, and businesses to effectively use technology in teaching as well as to develop engaging online courses.

Her passion developed when she discovered she was one of only three female students in her honour’s class. ‘It became a passion of mine to not only make a difference in e-learning, but to inspire more young people, and especially girls to pursue careers in technology.’

Blewett is inspired by her father, Professor Craig Blewett, who is a leading Educational Technology academic and consultant who has developed pioneering approaches in modern education. He developed the Activated Classroom Teaching (ACT) Model on which most of Sarah’s research has been based. It provides a framework of six digital-age pedagogies: Consumption, Curation, Conversation, Correction, Creation, and Chaos. ‘I have been blessed to have had the opportunity to play an active role in his on-going journey,’ she said.

Her study aims to reconceptualise OSE through a pedagogic lens that stratifies engagement based on the pedagogic underpinnings of online activities. This will enable improved prediction of student academic performance. The pedagogies are ordered based on the level of OSE required, with Consumption being the lowest and Chaos the highest. These groupings will enable better understanding of effortful engagement and can be used to better determine OSE as a whole.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought into sharp focus the need for effective online education. One of the key issues confronting teachers is determining student engagement and activity. The lack of “visibility” online makes it difficult for teachers to gain insight into students’ engagement and respond to potential issues. Online student engagement is vital to the success of online teaching. Numerous studies point to a positive correlation between OSE and academic performance making it a key element in predicting student success. However, there is much confusion around the definition of engagement in online learning.

Blewett presented at the UKZN e-learning Symposium in September this year, where she demonstrated how she has used her research to create effective and engaging online courses at the University.

She is also an entrepreneur and has founded a company that develops websites and Learning Management Systems with a focus on education.

To find out more about Blewett’s research as well as other CAES researchers at PRIS 2021, visit pris.ukzn.ac.za

Words: Samantha Ngcongo

Photograph: Supplied