Degree Name

Doctor of Education


School of Education


The importance of learning about National history has been well recognised and has led to public debate about the content and how it should be presented to students. A perceived lack of student engagement with history has led to suggestions that a change in classroom pedagogy from teacher to student-centred activities is warranted. This study investigated the research problem of defining design principles to assist teachers in motivating and engaging students in the study of Australian History through the use of technology to support authentic tasks.

The study employed a design-based research (DBR) approach to investigate how an authentic task that involved students utilising a web site resource to research the story of a WW1 soldier, could engage and motivate high school History students. The intervention was implemented with Year 9 students in an Australian regional high school. The investigation examined the design principles, student processes and the teacher’s role in the delivery and completion of a student-centred, technology-based, authentic task. The study involved three iterative cycles of investigation during a period of three consecutive years at the same school with different students and teachers being involved each year. The study was conducted using qualitative methods within a design-based research framework. The sources of data were classroom observations and post-activity structured interviews with teachers and representative samples of students. The data collected was analysed using a constant comparative method to determine themes and issues related to the implemented solution. Three questions guided the investigation. (1) What are the critical principles applicable to the design of a technology-based authentic task, which will interest motivate and engage students in the study of Australian History? (2) What processes do students engage in when completing an authentic historical task using a technology-based learning resource? (3) How do teachers facilitate the use of a complex and sustained technology-based task in their history classes and what is their perception of improved learning outcomes for students?

This study showed that authentic activities can motivate and engage students when learning about Australian History. The motivation and engagement of students was consistent across the three iterations despite the differing circumstances applying in each classroom situation. Eleven Design Principles to guide educators in planning authentic activities were derived from this research and are listed as follows:

1. Authentic activities with real-world relevance, and/or involving personal aspects of real people, lead to student engagement. 2. Authentic activities are complex, ill-defined tasks requiring investigation over a significant period of time. 3. “Authentic activities provide the opportunity for students to examine the task from different perspectives, using a variety of resources” (Reeves, Herrington, & Oliver, 2002, p. 564). 4. Authentic activities provide the opportunity to collaborate with others, even when working on individual tasks. 5. “Authentic activities provide the opportunity to reflect” (Reeves et al., 2002, p. 564). 6. Authentic activities require students to employ a range of different skills. 7. Authentic activities create worthwhile, complete products. 8. “Authentic activities are seamlessly integrated with assessment” (Reeves et al., 2002, p. 564). 9. “Authentic activities allow competing solutions and diversity of outcome” (Reeves et al., 2002, p. 564). 10. Authentic activities require structured and documented support. 11. Authentic activities require access to teacher support.

An overall limitation to this study is that it involved one school and one year group across multiple years, thus the draft design principles derived will need further examination in other school contexts. Furthermore, there was no detailed analysis of assessment artefacts produced by the students to make a judgement on the quality of the ‘learning’ that had occurred, thus future studies could consider this.

The significant practical benefit derived from this DBR study to the school and the wider educational community was in the form of a student-centred unit of work focusing on the personal experiences of individual soldiers in World War One (WW1) which is now an important component of the school’s History curriculum.