The problem of engagement
There is a line of thought in the numeracy discourse that goes like this: A learner's motivation in a certain area can be used to piggyback numeracy content.
An example is a learner who loves cars, and is on an automotive engineering course. The theory states that they will engage to a greater degree with numeracy if it is presented in the context of car specs, and if the content is relevant to their needs.
It sounds true. And there is some self-report data to support the idea. Learners who believe that numeracy is useful tend to achieve better than those who don't.
But, I'm not so sure about all this.
Engagement in 'numeracy tasks' at a micro level is how numeracy skills are developed. Does the relevance of the situation context improve micro engagement? Not from what I am seeing.
Here are some questions for numeracy tutors:
- Do your learners engage more in numeracy tasks that are fun or important?
- Do your learners engage more in numeracy tasks that have clear performance goals (how many can I get right) or conceptual understanding goals (a new way of thinking about an idea)?
- Do your learners engage in different ways depending on the time of day, or the day of the week?
- Are your learners motivated by passing assessments, or developing meaningful understandings of numeracy concepts that will be useful in their lives?
Finally, do your learners actually believe that the numeracy content they are learning on the programme is relevant to their needs? And how would you know?
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