As a consultant to Gough Whitlam Secondary College (GWSC) I detail in this paper what I consider important issues facing the school in anticipation of the laptop roll-out and approaches aimed at addressing these. It is important to state at the outset that differing views exist within expert opinion and available research is relatively recent. The reality is that any approaches taken must be within GWSC’s current constraints and the short timeframe.
From my review of stakeholders’ correspondence (contained within the Education Revolution Case Story (Loughland, 2009)), it is fair to state that there exists a mixture of views of the Federal Government’s $2 billion Digital Education Revolution (DER) at GWSC, particularly in respect of the laptop roll-out.
The DER forms part of the Rudd government’s Education Revolution with the aim to:
contribute sustainable and meaningful change to teaching and learning in Australian schools that will prepare students for further education, training and to live and work in a digital world (DEEWR, 2009).
The NSW DET has elected to utilise the funds for the provision of laptops for students in line with the federal government’s aim of a 1:1 computer to student ratio by 2011. The DER also provides $32.6 million to supply students and teachers with online curriculum tools and resources to support the national curriculum. $10 million is provided to develop support mechanisms and provide assistance for the rollout of ICT to schools. The government states that existing funding of $300 million through the Australian Government Quality Teacher Program will cover ICT training for teachers (DEEWR, 2009). We have concerns over how the DER supports teachers at the school level which we detail throughout this paper.
The federal government has not been explicit in detailing either the underpinnings of the DER or how its aim will be met. Such lack of detail is of particular concern to Rowena and Bryony in terms of support and pedagogical integration, and to Wendy in terms of funding allocation to the most appropriate technology. Nevertheless, the decision has both local and global bases. The 2008 Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians (MCEETYA (2008) in Meiers, 2009, p. 3) states the importance of ICT to students and a 2003 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) study (as well as OECD studies) support the effective use of ICT in education (Meiers, 2009). The 2003 PISA study showed that some features of ICT availability and use were strongly associated with student performance. However, this was not the case for all features (Meiers, 2009, p. 3). We have concerns as to how the DER at GWSC will improve educational outcomes for students based on the laptop roll-out as it currently stands in view of the government’s announcement.
Equity in education is a cornerstone of government policy and the DER recognises this. At one level, Wendy believes the home computer will be freed up for use by her younger children. As all secondary schools with students in years 9-12 are eligible for funding and Rounds One and Two funding were directed to schools with poor computer to student ratios (DEEWR, 2009), an argument can be made for equitable policy, particularly at a school like GWSC which comprises students from lower socio-economic groups.
Data exists to support the provision of ICT to students from an equity perspective. The 2003 PISA study found that students with little access to computers or used them minimally or lacked confidence did not perform well (Meiers, 2009, p. 5). This was partly due to such students coming from low socio-economic groups and a MCEETYA paper in 2007 confirms such differences (Meiers, 2009, p. 5). Importantly an OECD analysis found no statistical differences in desire to use ICT between low and high literacy achieving students which suggests that ICT access is important to educational outcomes (OECD, 2005b, in Meiers, p. 5). The same study found a strong trend for low achievers to report less access to ICT in the home than high achievers.
It is not argued that the DER will not provide greater and more equitable access to ICT within the school. However, the PISA evidence confirmed previous studies showing the ‘particularly strong association of performance with home access and usage’ (OECD, 2005a, in Meiers, p. 5). An important question then arises from the evidence; does the mere provision of a laptop to a low-achieving student in a low socio-economic environment actually improve equity in terms of outcome? More specifically, where a student is provided with a laptop and no support exists at home to increase usage or confidence, is there an effect on educational outcomes (in line with the 2003 PISA study)? Delving deeper still where no broadband exists at home, is the so-called knowledge or ‘new literacies’ as defined by Knobel & Lankshear (2006) that children need to ‘live and work in the digital age’ able to be achieved equitably? Sandra and Andrea express real concerns over access at home. Again, data is relatively recent and these become difficult questions to answer. They do however raise significant questions about how laptops and ICT are used in the school (and at home). We are also cognisant of the fact that GWSC is currently not fully equipped to handle laptop use in class
The philosophical and psychological perspectives of the DER overlap but I attempt to deal with these as simply as possible.
Differing philosophical views exist both amongst the GWSC stakeholders and within expert opinion. Unsurprisingly the limited amount of conclusive evidence on ICT and educational outcomes provides conflicting views on the effectiveness of an initiative such as the DER as has been the experience in the USA (Quimby, 2007). Due to the certainty of the laptop roll-out, we do not intend to address any arguments against implementation of such technology but instead concentrate on having processes and pedagogies in place to maximise educational outcomes for students.
Prensky is oft-cited as an authority on the take-up of technology by students, they being ‘digital natives’ with older generation teachers being ‘digital immigrants’ (Loughland, 2008). On this basis, such an argument holds that technologies should be handed over to students to learn and experiment with (Prensky, 2005). The principal of GWSC seems to share a similar view, believing the technology will drag teachers into the digital age and students will harness the internet to automatically achieve Band Five and Sixes. This is one end of the philosophical argument, one which we do not subscribe to and one which the evidence does not support (Higgins, 2003 in Meiers, 2009, p. 6).
Bigum’s social or technological deterministic argument holds that the actual experience of new technologies in educational settings typically differs from the promise as a result of the school ‘schooling’ (and thereby limiting) the technology (2002, p. 2; Loughland, 2007). At GWSC, this is illustrated by Wendy’s fear of a laptop being just an expensive typewriter. Worryingly, such limitations are also borne out by Bryony’s one positive remark about laptops. Bryony’s views reflect Gillen’s reference to the ‘technology-led’ as opposed to ‘education-led’ introduction of new technology and how this approach creates problems in teachers’ take-up of technology as a pedagogic tool (2007, p. 244; Loughland, 2007). As detailed earlier, Meiers (2009, p. 3) cites the 2003 PISA study that not all technology use results in stronger performance by students, therefore the pedagogical approaches are critical if the government’s aim is to be achieved.
The reality of effective pedagogy at GWSC is expressed most clearly by Stephen and Bonwyn, both well-respected teachers but with different views and uses of technology. Stephen appears to be a successful integrator of ICT which he believes improves educational outcomes for students. This occurs predominantly through his use of Moodle and the interactive whiteboard (IWB) but also through the additional effect of ICT enabling time for greater one-on-one teaching. Critically, he acknowledges that student outcomes are dependent on passionate deep subject knowledge, innovative teaching approaches and ‘a relentless focus on learning’. Bronwyn also achieves great outcomes for students, through deep understanding with hands on experimentation, consultative approaches with students and also a passion for teaching, though there is little evidence as to whether her students have digital or ‘new literacy’ skills.
From a psychological perspective, Andrea elucidates clearly students’ views about teachers and teaching.
Firstly, teacher centred learning combined with strict behaviour management techniques de-motivates students. This form of teaching appears contrary to Teaching Australia’s Advanced Teaching Capability 1.4 requiring teachers to understand and use a wide range of technologies in teaching and learning (2008) and arguably the Quality Teaching Framework (Amosa, Ladwig, Griffiths & Gore, 2007).
Secondly, Stephen and Bronwyn have succeeded in making their subject areas intrinsically motivating as evidenced by student satisfaction in maths and science. Bronwyn’s collaborative approach matches that proposed by Ewing (in press) where both students and teachers are involved in authentic assessment. In this way, students are more likely to have a clear understanding of a learning task when students and teachers are involved together in preparing assessment. Both these approaches appear aligned to the Quality Teaching framework.
We noted earlier the lack of detail regarding the federal government’s detail in converting the DER into improved educational outcomes. We also note a Le@rning Federation study which found a generally low adoption of ICT due to various factors, including a lack of alignment between curriculum, pedagogy and assessment of students’ performance (Freebody, Reimann & Tiu, 2008 in Meiers, 2009 p. 3). As it appears GWSC follows this trend, our pedagogical recommendations reflect the current constraints of the roll-out at senior levels. These recommendations are threefold. Firstly, we draw upon existing data to develop a technologically-integrative pedagogy that embraces the Quality Teaching framework. Secondly, we suggest an approach that extends and ‘innovates’ ICT use in line with virtual constructionist ideals. Thirdly, we recommend the extension of cost-effective pedagogy which already exists within GWSC. We also recommend that Sandra utilise the $7 million funding for infrastructure upgrading to handle 1:1 laptop ratios and installation of additional IWB’s. Given DER commitment to delivering the laptops and broadband to schools, we do not believe it is appropriate to detail interim recommendations or measures.
Though the evidence is not conclusive with respect to ICT integration improving student outcomes, themes emerge from the research that point toward maximising the opportunities for student learning. Unsurprisingly, this occurs when the use of ICT is planned, structured and integrated effectively in the classroom (British Educational Research Association, 2003 in Meiers, 2009, p. 6).
Much of the research on positive student improvement outcomes has been on IWB use. A study by Balanskat, Blamrie & Kefala (2006) found particular improvement for low achieving students in classrooms where the IWB’s were used (in Meiers, 2009, p. 8). A number of reasons exist for this, one of which is that the IWB has been found in most research to be highly motivating for students (Gillen, Staarman, Littleton, Mercer & Twiner, 2007, p. 253).
Such motivation is particularly important for students at GWSC as stated by Andrea. The research indicates that learning outcomes arise from ‘more active discursive involvement of pupils, through drawing them into more extended and thought-provoking question and answer exchanges’ (Rojas-Drummond & Mercer, 2001, in Gillen et al, 2007, p. 244). The benefit of the IWB seems to be that it enables teachers to more easily use a combination of innovative styles of presentation (ie visual) and encourage more interactive (ie physical participation) and non-authoritative dialogue (Mortimer & Scott, 2003; Scott et al, 2006, in Gillen et al, 2007, p. 254; Levy, 2002, in Clements & Loughland, 2009). For true ‘transformation of teaching’ in terms of the government’s DER aim, classroom dialogue and the underlying pedagogy, the use of technology must be integrated effectively into the classroom. We suggest that this is best achieved by engaging in a balance of strategies across a range of technologies which should include both IWB and computer use as is successfully achieved by Stephen in mathematics. For the sake of clarity, the environment described does not envisage laptops to be used merely as a word-processing device, calculator or repository for an e-textbook.
Recent research in Maine, USA where a similar aim to that of the government’s DER was established in 2002 by the provision of laptops has shown that an improvement in student outcomes can be achieved (Silvernail, 2009; Berry & Wintle, 2009; Silvernail & Gritter, 2007; Silvernail & Buffington, 2009). The studies found significant improvement after introduction of laptops across writing, mathematics and science which included economically disadvantaged students in some situations. From a pedagogical perspective, the success of the program rested on: a clear, strategic vision and plan; technology being appropriate to the task and focussed; the technology being used as a learning tool; and assessments matching learning with technology (Silvernail, 2009). There is already evidence in the approaches of teachers at GWSC that bode well for integration of laptops into teaching and learning and improved student outcomes. Stephen successfully utilises ICT in a focussed and innovative way which ties learning to assessment through the IWB and Moodle. Possibilities exist for Bronwyn to utilise ICT for students to extend the deep learning she feels is achieved through direct experiences (ie field trips) via online learning portals or interactive experiments and further approaches will be discussed later.
As outlined earlier we do have concerns about the amount of resources and the lack of detail devoted to the integration of ICT and more currently the laptop-rollout. The Maine success occurred with two years of teacher training and strong, meaningful and sustained professional development and support (Quimby, 2007; Silvernail, 2009). Teachers already surveyed in the DET’s Connections Classroom Program made clear they sought professional learning in ICT that linked clearly to pedagogy curriculum (Clements & Loughland, 2009). The success of the laptop roll-out at GWSC will rest on such training which is acknowledged by Rowena, principal of Banksia campus. We recommend Rowena lobby the DET strongly for funding in this area and participation in the Safe Schools: Making the Links program which is part of the Quality Teaching Program and embeds ICT into the collaborative community learning framework for improved student outcomes. For this current year we support her decision to engage with the two other campuses.
We believe that this technologically-integrative pedagogical approach incorporates many of the features of the Quality Teaching framework and ideas of authentic assessment which should lead to improved student outcomes. Finally, based on Byrony’s comments, we caution that teachers must desire to embrace such approaches or at the very least be made aware of the benefits of such an integrated technological-pedagogy approach. Banksia’s ‘can do’ attitude and the high percentage of post graduate trained teachers provide confidence that a transformation in teaching and learning can be achieved.
The second pedagogical strategy we recommend at GWSC involves the use of ICT in line with virtual constructionist ideals and enables both students and teachers to collaboratively engage in learning in both virtual and physical settings (Clements & Loughland, 2009). At a detailed level, Clements & Loughland (2009) suggest virtual constructionism supports students in meaningful learning experiences through e-learning technologies in combination with quality pedagogies. This extends students beyond engagement and beyond the first pedagogical strategy detailed above by intellectually engaging students through the creation of a social sharing environment.
Proponents of constructionism claim that learning is most effective: when it is active and involves working on real tasks in collaboration with others; where a sense of community and collaboration are important elements; and where trusting, collaborative relationships are formed (Education.au, 2009, p. 1). Schrage (2000) argues that the biggest impact these technologies have had and will have is on relationships between people and organisations (in Bigum, 2002, p. 2) and therefore ICT must go further than pedagogical integration (although this is critical) to enable collaborative learning. Bigum’s (2002) idea of virtual constructionism is that schools become ‘producers’ of knowledge with projects given to students (or identified by students) as problems to solve together. The technology becomes another mean of expression that is pivotal to the success and ‘potentially positions schools as an important new resource for community and provides students with valuable experience in serious knowledge work’ (Bigum, 2002, p. 3).
Knobel & Lankshear describe the ‘new literacies’ that students and teachers need to understand and work to as ‘collaborative practices, involving distributed participation and collaboration, where rules and procedures are flexible and open to change’ (2006, p. 81). Though this suggests a need for a fluid learning environment, as a pedagogical approach, design principles are still required. Clements & Loughland (2009) list these which reflect the key points outlined in the first pedagogical recommendation with perhaps increased emphasis on establishing ways students express or construct the ‘big idea’ of a curriculum unit in an assessment project.
Clements & Loughland (2009) state virtual constructionism supports the integration of higher order thinking skills through e-learning tools which: i) encourage cognitively guided instruction that focuses on conversations; ii) develop a collaborative learning environment to encourage shared goals and personal responsibility; iii) engage students by understanding their e-learning needs; iv) integrate ICT in a real world and a virtual context with teaching and learning; and v) recognise students preference for images over text.
At GWSC, these tools can take the form of, for example: class discussions on online learning portals or interactive websites where the teacher is a guide and facilitator of learning and not an instructor (similar to the field trip experiences desired by Bronwyn); extended use of a learning management system (LMS) such as Moodle (as used by Stephen and discussed in detail in the next pedagogical recommendation) to enable students to share knowledge, reflect on their learning and provide feedback to other students; providing students with freedom to explore or use Web 2.0 (as advocated by Prensky, 2005) to complete authentic assessment tasks; innovation by students with news ways of learning (as described by Stephen); and use all technologies available to take advantage of both visual (ie IWB) and ‘new literacies’. Given the high percentage of LOTE students, self-paced technology learning modules should also be part of the program.
As in the first pedagogical approach, concerns do exist. A review from European Schoolnet of recent impact studies and surveys at the national European and international levels identified broadband access in classrooms as resulting in significant improvements in pupils’ performance in national tests (in Meiers, 2009, p. 8). This suggests that schools must provide adequate broadband access at school in school time to achieve the higher order thinking skills described above, particularly in the context of students that do not have access to broadband at home. This again raises the importance of a clear vision and strategy and leads on to the third pedagogical recommendation.
Given that all senior students will be provided with laptops, the third approach utilises existing technology and is stated simply as technologically, cost-effective pedagogy. This pedagogy applies to both teachers and students. This is particularly important given the lack of detail regarding teacher training provided by the federal government.
There is evidence at GWSC already of the use of a cost-effective LMS through Moodle. The submissions of Stephen and Andrea highlight the successful learning achieved through Moodle, online discussion and the ability of Stephen to dedicate greater time to one-on-one learning as a result of its cost (and time) effectiveness. As highlighted by Ganderton (2009), Moodle connects students, teachers and curriculum knowledge.
For students, the use Moodle can makes outcomes more explicit than verbal directions, allows interaction (detailed further below), and can personalise the learning environment through developing individual learning plans. Considering the high percentage of LOTE students and Briony’s concerns, this may be of significant benefit to GWSC.
For teachers, Moodle can strengthen the quality teaching framework by creating a consistent, quality learning environment delivered through the platform. Most visibly, Moodle can reduce the administrative time in creating tasks, lesson and unit plans and reporting requirements.
Student knowledge can be aided by the provision and delivery of uniform authentic, high quality tasks and resources whilst providing the ability for interaction between students and facilitators within discussion forums. Andrea in particular supports such student-to-student interaction.
The European Schoolnet study referred to earlier as one of its eight key statements found that ICT investment impacts on educational standards most when there is fertile ground in schools for making efficient use of it (in Meiers, p. 9). Currently at GWSC with the exception of Stephen, minimal use of efficient ICT is in place which is most likely a result of poor ICT infrastructure however evidence of teacher unwillingness also exists. Managing the expectations of administrators, teachers, parents, and students will be critical not only for the laptop roll-out but also the likely demands on Stephen. Stephen exhibits a strong desire to extend Moodle and it is suggested he be given responsibility for development of a GWSC-wide Moodle platform encompassing some, if not all of the potential features described above.
Finally, research by Dougimas and Taylor in online learning with Moodle was conducted with the intention of:
enabling teachers to develop the skills of transformative professionals capable of appreciating the need to complexify the culture of learning in their own educational institutions so that the interests and aspirations of all students are met (2002).
Through monitoring the use of Moodle in the study and the statements made by users, the researchers deemed ‘quite successful’ participants’ critical reflection on their ability to learn collaboratively by engaging others thoughtfully and empathetically. Whilst an area for further research, we suggest that the use of Moodle in this fashion by teachers and students will result in greater development of skills in line with DER aims, in a time and cost effective manner. Elements of the collaborative nature of the Safe Schools: Making the Links program echo such an approach. Within this program, communities of schools are established to support, inter alia, collaborative learning and professional development, some of which will be delivered by online, flexible learning which may include Moodle and video conferences.
We argue that the provision of laptops to teachers and students will further encourage this type of collaborative approach and provide teachers with ideas to extend to the classroom, strengthening the earlier recommended pedagogies.
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