ePEARL of wisdom

Next-generation online tool developed at Concordia could help improve high school dropout rate
November 27, 2013
By Media Relations

Photo by Concordia University

Over the past two decades, Canada's high school dropout rate has declined steadily, reaching a low of 7.8 per cent in 2011-12. Despite this encouraging trend, five provinces — Quebec, Manitoba, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Newfoundland and Labrador— have lagged behind. Quebec in particular has a dismal rate: according to a recent poll published by Léger for the Lucie and André Chagnon Foundation, 25 per cent of Quebecers of the age of 20 do not have a high school diploma.

Yet thanks to a new online tool developed at Concordia, the future of education in Quebec just got a little brighter. A team of researchers with the university’s Centre for the Study of Learning and Performance (CSLP) has recently upgraded an online tool that facilitates both learning and teaching.

Known as the Electronic Portfolio Encouraging Active and Reflective Learning, or ePEARL, the bilingual online software encourages self-regulated learning in students from kindergarten through high school. It provides electronic tools that allow students to take control of and evaluate their own learning and behaviour.

Self-regulated learners control their educational environment — and often meet with greater success because of that. This type of active learning permits students to set goals, while monitoring and controlling their cognition, motivation and behaviour. An online portfolio tool like ePEARL allows both teachers and students to become more aware of their academic strengths and weaknesses, and gives them a repertoire of strategies to tackle the school tasks.

The CSLP researchers have now taken ePEARL one step further by developing an iteration of the software aimed at adult learners and educators. It’s already helping teachers develop their professional competencies, as outlined in a new study co-authored by CSLP researchers Vivek Venkatesh, Philip Abrami, Ann-Louise Davidson, Eva Bures, Anne Wade and Larysa Lysenko.

“This new level of ePEARL supports pre-service and in-service teachers as they make the transition towards becoming self-regulated professionals,” says Davidson, an associate professor in Concordia’s Department of Education. “It allows them share their lesson plans and work to enhance their experiences in the classroom and learn from one another.”

Teachers using ePEARL report growth in their teaching practice as a result of the framework and support provided by the software. “Unfortunately, buy-in from school boards is not always as strong as it could be,” says Davidson. Although the CSLP is actively collaborating with five school boards, the free software has yet to be implemented across Quebec. Davidson explains that’s because of two main challenges: the technological competencies of teachers and lack of understanding regarding what self-regulating means in practice.

“Teachers are keen to implement new technologies in the classroom but many don’t have the know-how to do so. School boards need to provide them with the training and equipment they need to accomplish their duties,” she says.

“At the same time, teachers need to broaden their understanding of self-regulated learning. Studies have proven that self-regulated learners are more successful in and beyond school because they believe that opportunities to take on challenging tasks, practise their learning, develop a deep understanding of subject matter and exert effort will bring results. If that attitude was held in classrooms across Quebec, we’d see the high school dropout rate change — for the better.”

About the research: This study appears in Cases on Educational Technology Implementation for Facilitating Learning, published by IGI Global.

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