By Michael Daly and Kevin Daly
This two-part article looks at software and hardware that is likely to impact on eLearning in Australian schools in the near future. The aim is to give schools the opportunity to discuss what is likely to be coming and therefore not make reactive decisions when spending on eLearning.
When software costs, hardware costs, technician time, repairs and upgrades are all taken into account, it is not surprising that many schools are unclear on how much they are actually spending on eLearning. Often, school leaders are surprised to find it can be as high as 15–20 percent of the entire school global budget. It is also difficult to show that this significant expenditure is improving student outcomes commensurate with the size of the spend. An Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report in 2015 found, “Among the seven countries with the highest level of internet use in school, three experienced ‘significant declines’ in reading performance – Australia, New Zealand and Sweden…”
However, commonsense informs that technology can enhance student outcomes and that educators must prepare students for a world of accelerating technological change.
There are many factors that create tension between the desired outcomes in eLearning and the actuality. Most schools now have a dedicated eLearning person and have quickly moved from computer labs to one-on-one models. The costs of these changes have been absorbed by schools or cost shifted to parents. While schools would like to have cutting-edge technology, the newer the technology the more expensive the entry point. This aspect, coupled with technology rapidly dating, makes it very hard for schools to ‘future proof’ their eLearning investments.
Anyone who has managed an eLearning budget or eLearning plan will know that by time they have discussed it and written it, it is usually out of date. Schools tend to make reactive, expensive decisions when spending on eLearning.
In many schools, the implementation of iPads and tablets often resulted in an initial drop in performance data. This is most likely due to the poor quality of discussion about curriculum, pedagogy and teacher skills in the context of a technology innovation. The device can become an impediment to learning because, while students appear fully engaged, the quality of that engagement can be shallow and superficial. Informed, expert guidance resting on sound pedagogical principles is required. This means skill development for staff should be the school’s first priority.
What follows is a simple guide of possible trends that schools may wish to consider.
eBooks, Learning Management Systems and Adaptive Technology
Many schools have quickly moved to electronic roll marking and from there into Learning Management Systems (LMS) that include learning tasks, reporting and assessment. At the same time, publishers have provided texts as eBooks. It is likely that there will be convergence between these two things; that is, the LMS will also be populated with the eBooks, creating a single sign-on for students and staff. Some publishers have already headed down this path.
eBooks themselves represent an interesting challenge for schools, as early iterations were really just digitized text but, as they become more interactive, they show the potential to actively improve learning outcomes. Not too far in the future, an eBook may interactively tailor itself to an individual student’s learning needs and style. If the child is very tactile, there are lots of interactives. If the child is visual, more pictures and video are shown. Additionally, a pre-test before a topic takes each student down an individual learning path suited to his or her needs. This approach of the software guiding the learning is called adaptive technology and it will become increasingly powerful.
Coding as a Language Study
Most schools have a language program, but by year eleven many students disengage from languages altogether. Technology now enables text to be fairly accurately translated from one language to another and there are also software and apps that do the same for speech. One school of thought has been to include coding as a language. It is felt that it provides much of what teachers are looking for when they teach Indonesian or French, but is more pertinent to the needs of today’s students and has a more problem-solving emphasis rather than rote learning. This is a relatively cost-free initiative that could improve eLearning outcomes by enriching the curriculum and students’ choices.
The Flipped Classroom
There will always be a place for text and number in schools but, increasingly, teachers have an audience that engages heavily with video. If students have a query, quite often the first place they search is YouTube. Time in schools is often stretched and has many competing priorities; the flipped classroom helps solve this problem and places more responsibility on the student. Students look at videos of new materials or review classes their teachers taught by video. This means students can watch and re-watch if necessary. The teacher also has a bank of reusable lessons that can be reviewed, honed and refined.
As this approach frees up valuable lesson time, more time can be given to individual needs. The fact that students are taking more responsibility to learn content and have greater access to the teacher in the lesson should certainly improve learning outcomes. Again, this is a cost-effective approach that should add quality to a school’s pedagogy and curriculum.
Gaming as Learning
Gaming has certainly become a trend in education across the last few years. There are many parents and some teachers who see this as anathema to learning. However, there is a level of engagement and concentration with games such as Minecraft or Sim City that teachers would love to be able to emulate in mainstream classrooms. Students are highly motivated to problem solve in order to move up a level in these types of environments. In schools, many teachers have tried to harness this level of engagement to improve learning outcomes.
In part because games and gaming are very much a part of students’ day-to-day lives, digital badges or rewards are also becoming more apparent in schools. There has been a strong movement in the US by some schools to reward successful behaviours in the same way games do. Out of this has come the concept of digital badges. These are cheap and work particularly well in primary schools
Augmented Reality, 3D and Interactive Software
Today’s students tend to be highly visual and tactile, in part due to their early and constant use of screen technology. Research across the neurosciences and education points to the fact they are learning and thinking differently from previous generations.
With this in mind, 3D software and augmented reality software are highly engaging for students. The idea, for example, that students can collaboratively pull apart a model of a volcano and create a short film of it on an interactive flat screen panel to show the class creates some interesting classroom scenarios. There are costs to these types of software solutions, but increasingly they will become the norm.
Part two of this article continues the discussion by considering hardware trends and their potential impact on eLearning.
Michael Daly and Kevin Daly are brothers who have spent most of their careers in schools both as teachers and school leaders.
Michael is a Director at Clarendon Consultancies. He looks critically at technology and what impact it can have on learning outcomes and has interests in neuroscience and education, diffuse schooling, establishing classroom presence for early career teachers and innovative pedagogy. Michael can be contacted via email email@example.com
Kevin runs his own eLearning consultancy and is currently working for SMART technologies across Australia and New Zealand. He can be contacted via email firstname.lastname@example.org