E-learning approach 'disjointed', says Newman

New Zealand needs to play as a team with electronically assisted learning, says former TUANZ CEO

Electronically assisted learning can be the “killer application” supporting use of the ultrafast and rural broadband initiatives, says former TUANZ CEO Ernie Newman. However, he warns, New Zealand is failing to “play as a team around e-learning”.

“Professional jealousies among a range of interests, organisations, government institutions, private service providers, faculties of education and others are resulting in a highly disjointed approach.”

Newman makes his remarks in one of the submissions to the Education and Science Parliamentary select committee’s inquiry into 21st-century learning, sparked by National MP Nikki Kaye.

TUANZ used to run an annual one-day event, aimed at helping teachers “get to grips with modern teaching and learning techniques.”

“It was funded by commercial sponsorship, schools, and a grant from the Ministry of Education, until about 2008 when the ministry reduced the funding and made the events non-viable,” Newman writes.

The inquiry has attracted more than 90 submissions from a wide variety of commentators, including official bodies such as the National Council of Women and the Council for Educational Research, and ICT companies such as Microsoft and Catalyst IT.

Most of the submissions have great hopes for technology in assisting and reforming learning, but there is some difference of opinion over whether it fits at the front or back end of the reform process.

“Helicoptering in technology” over an existing structure and expecting this to achieve reform won’t have good outcomes, says Nat Torkington. “Successful use of technology requires teachers who know what’s possible and how to achieve it,” he writes.

Other submissions admit some role for technology in inspiring ideas on change. It can help “to support more advanced pedagogical approaches; to reconceptualise the learning environment; to make learning visible,” says Microsoft. These are “critical factors in driving learning outcomes”.

Several submissions touch on the strength of technology in “making learning visible” - showing clearly when a student has mastered a topic and when lack of progress indicates a need for help.

In terms of reorganising the way learning happens, there is a good deal of support for making classrooms more open-plan in layout (though one submitter points a failed experiment in Western Australia, whose schools have gained permission to “put the walls back up”).

The “flipped classroom” is widely discussed — learning material is sent out to students at home and the role of the teacher in the class is to guide its use rather than convey the content.

Open source companies Catalyst and E-gressive put in a word for the potential reduction in cost from using free open-source software. This often matches the quality of proprietary offerings, says E-gressive’s Dave Lane. “Where it is arguably not quite as feature rich, it can easily be argued that the ‘high end features’ are not crucial to students’ requirements and are definitely not worth the cost and the sacrificed openness that using the proprietary software requires.”

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