- Beyond the school gate
- Improving student learning
- Let's teach maths and science
- What's real in a virtual world?
- Careers and transition
- Curriculum for the 21st century
- Early childhood education & care
- Teachers and Teaching
The ICT agenda
Transforming e-learning into effective learning
As teachers become more aware of online content, they are challenged to consider a new vision for teaching and learning. Andrew Dalgliesh reports on how Queensland is embracing the possibilities.
In 2001, the Ministers of Education from the State, Territory, Australian and New Zealand Governments agreed to invest over $70 million on the procurement and development of online curriculum content for schools. In June 2006, The Le@rning Federation (TLF) enters its third phase of operation, with the goal of developing and procuring an additional 4000 items of content to the existing 4500 items by mid-2009.
The decision to fund TLF came from priorities identified by Education Network Australia (EdNA). These included infrastructure, people (student learning and teacher professional development), online content, supporting policies and enabling regulation. Increasingly, teachers are asking questions that parallel most of these priorities:
- How do we find items and make them available? (infrastructure)
- How can we learn more about using online content to enhance student learning outcomes? (people)
- What is available and what else is coming? (content)
- Where does this content fit into the curriculum? (supporting policies)
An emerging vision of e-learning
In a world where the diversity of student population is increasing, where competition for student attention and retention is increasing and where community and political expectations of schools is changing, a key challenge for school education is to provide learning experiences that engage the so-called ‘digital generation’, while maintaining intellectual quality and enhancing learning outcomes.
Prensky (2001) argues that today’s students have grown up so immersed in ICT that they view these technologies as ubiquitous and use them seamlessly and naturally, as one uses the language and cultural elements of one’s upbringing. He describes these students as ‘digital natives’ and their teachers as ‘digital immigrants’ for whom thinking and learning are not only enabled through different means but are substantially different processes.
Education debates play out in the newspapers around a Shakespeare versus Simpson (Bart or Jessica?) discussion about what should be taught. The question of how we should teach and how students of the 21st century learn, however, continues to be pursued quietly but persistently in every classroom where teachers search for practical ideas for engaging reluctant learners, raising the intellectual standard of student discourse, making learning relevant and meaningful, or simply helping students grasp a difficult concept or idea.
The idea that ICT, e-learning in particular, can transform teaching and learning is not new. What is emerging is a recognition that this will not occur simply through a top-down approach in which e-learning is seen as a separate entity from ‘real’ learning, where teachers are asked to integrate ICT into existing pedagogies and where that transformation is something that is done to teachers by those in authority.
Downes (2004) argues that the new model of e-learning is not limited to activities that occur when students have their hands on a digital device exploring digital bits of information. He asserts that e-learning is a platform for personal and connected learning, the creation of knowledge within communities and networks, and something that makes new teaching practice possible, driven as much by student interests and local needs as by systemic priorities. In the 21st century, the ‘e’ in e-learning may no longer stand for ‘electronic’ but for ‘effective’.
The Learning Place
Teachers in Education Queensland have access to a comprehensive e-learning environment called The Learning Place which empowers teachers to enhance student learning outcomes through effective use of digital tools, resources, services and models of practice. The vision underpinning The Learning Place is connected learning—the idea that learning occurs when individuals are connected through challenging experiences with other people, with events, places, resources, and ideas.
The Learning Place achieves connected learning in Queensland via:
- online learning, where teachers can participate in online courses, use ready-to-go student materials or build their own online courses, activities and virtual classrooms using the learning management system Blackboard
- communication tools including chats, forums, blogs, project rooms, multi-user dimension object oriented environments (MOO), teleconferencing and data conferencing to develop and run online events, or to take part in spotlight projects run in conjunction with key events such as ANZAC Day
- communities, including professional learning communities, which are open, dynamic websites developed collaboratively by community members, and Collaborative Online Projects (COP) which provide tools for proven models of student learning such as travel buddies, raps and virtual field trips
- online resources delivered through the Curriculum Exchange (CX) that include learning objects and digital resources from TLF, website evaluations (EduSites), teaching ideas, practices and strategies (TIP), digitised distance education materials (SDE learning objects) and an impressive library of media resources, beginning with a collection of digital photos of significant items, locations, events and people (ImageBank).
The real power of online curriculum content will come only partly from the quality of the content itself. Just as top shelf ingredients are essential to good cooking, quality online content is integral to good teaching and effective learning. Those of us whose cooking skills are limited to the packet-mix recognise that for many teachers there will be times when a ready-made solution is the most supportive way to engage in transformative practice, provided that is the beginning and not the end of the learning journey.
The key to making effective use of the smaller and more granular forms of online content is to recognise that the skills required to transform them into great learning are not those of a technically gifted ICT guru, but those of a good teacher. If spotlight events and student courses are ready-to-go, then digital resources and learning objects are ready-to-use. They only require teachers to think carefully about their everyday practice and to imagine ways these new ingredients and the implements and recipes that go with them can make that practice extraordinary.
What this means for teachers trying to realise the promise of online content is that the answers to their most frequent questions lie not only in the starry firmament of departmental policy, but in themselves. It means, for example, that finding and selecting resources and making them visible to students in meaningful ways is as much about identifying curriculum aims and student needs as it is about using the comprehensive search tools and browse hierarchies in the CX resource centre and an authoring tool like Virtual Classroom to publish.
Learning to use online content involves learning more about the middle phase of learning, literacy, the new maths syllabus or whatever other priorities or issues confront us as teachers. Items of online content to fit into the curriculum cannot be selected without examining one’s own beliefs about learning and the pathway to becoming a better practitioner—moving towards a Jamie Oliver model, not simply settling for Betty Crocker.
Survive the Drive: a ready-to-go WebQuest
Search results from Curriculum Exchange resource centre
Tying it all together
In classrooms around Queensland, many teachers are putting the pieces together to enhance learning and engage students. Students have used TLF digital resources and learning objects to explore the experience of the ANZACs, engaged in Spotlight chats and forums with veterans and other experts, contributed to blogs that explored the meaning of being Australian and investigated aspects of Australian history through TLF learning objects. Students were able to connect to authentic resources, different perspectives and develop concepts and values in collaborative and supportive environments.
Increasingly, this type of practice is moving from being considered innovative to being part of the everyday repertoire of teachers who are focused on transforming schooling so that students become powerful, connected and engaged learners for life.
Visit the Learning Place at http://learningplace.eq.edu.au
Downes, Stephen (2004). ‘E-Learning 2.0’, available at http://elearnmag.org/subpage.cfm?section=articles&article=29-1
Education Network Australia (EdNA) Schools Advisory Group (2000). Learning in an OnlineWorld: School education action plan for theinformation economy, Education Network Australia (EdNA), Adelaide.
Prensky, Marc (2001). ‘Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants’, available at www.marcprensky.com/writing
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