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John Simkin

Government's E-Learning Strategy

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David Faure's comments on the situation in secondary education are absolutely spot on. Like David I teach every day in a technology rich environment.

Every teacher has a notebook provided free by the school. Every student from Year 5 up has their own notebook computer. I have a ratio of 2 network connections per student. We have a huge programme of professional development for which the Principal makes ample funding and time available. I employ an in-house learning technology consultant to work with the teachers in planning programmes and lessons and to provide in-class support when required.

Every notebook computer has over 30 software applications on board most of which are carefully selected for their open ended constructionist design.

Our network is totally reliable and fast, our internet connection is 10Mbs, the in-house tech support is provided by a team of 5 who cover from 8am to 6pm weekdays. Our turn around for notebooks is out by 4pm and returned by 9am next day and is running a 100% record for more than a year now. We have dozens of projectors, scanners, digital cameras and digital video cameras. Our curriculum is very flexible and allows for a lot of school based and teacher based autonomy and does not suffer the constraints felt by teachers in other countries which clearly limit the total integration of ICT across the curriculum.

My point in mentioning this is to illustrate that every possible excuse/reason/impediment that could be laid at the door of a school for a teacher not to embrace learning technologies has been removed.

Now, can I ask you to guess the most frequent reason given for not using this wealth of technological riches to enhance learning? Yes, you guessed it............... they refuse to use the technology because they have to teach their students to handwrite essays/answers because the university entrance exams demand it.

In my view the universities need to take a good look at what schools are doing and start supporting schools in the use of learning technologies not making it harder for them. Schools have invested too much in terms of money and time to allow the universities to cling to 19th Century modes of assessment. Changing assessment to provide the option for students to be assessed in the genre in which they have been learning - or is their preferred style, would be a very good start. Issues like security and plagiarism are not obstacles, there are management and technical solutions available.

Another suggestion would be to include some learning technology pedagogy in teacher education courses as a compulsory element. It is very hard to find NQTs with the skills needed to teach in a notebook computer classroom. Recently I had a very disturbing illustration of a student teacher being marked down by their supervisor on a lesson they took in a notebook computer class. Clearly the university supervisor had not the slightest idea about the pedagogy of the notebook classroom or constructionist techniques which the student employed most successfully.

So, come on Unis, get with the programme. Those of us in schools need you to help us drive this change.

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So, come on Unis, get with the programme. Those of us in schools need you to help us drive this change.

Some universities are doing a pretty good job. I am external examiner for the MSc in Computer Assisted Language Learning at UMIST: http://mull.ccl.umist.ac.uk/call/

All the students' scripts that I read are word-processed, and I also examine the projects that they have produced on CD-ROM or at the UMIST website.

How about the VITAL Environment at the University of Melbourne? The purpose of the VITAL Environment is to provide an easily configurable space where different styles of small group teaching utilising wall length whiteboards, video projection and the use of wireless notebooks can be explored - i.e. a new kind of electronic space for teaching: http://www.artsit.unimelb.edu.au/facilities/vital/index.html

I was at the University of Melbourne in 1998, attending the WorldCALL 1998 conference: http://www.worlcall.org

Have a look Winged Sandals, a delightful multimedia website on Greek Mythology created by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in association with The University of Melbourne's Centre for Classics and Archaeology. The website is designed for children 6-12 but will certainly have a much wider appeal: http://www.wingedsandals.com

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There is no doubt Graham, that as you rightly indicate the Uni of Melb has some very interesting initiatives and they are well worth exploring.

My schools sends a large cohort of students there each year and we have a close relationship with the university. An increasing amount of e-learning is taking place in the undergraduate courses, and that to me is the paradox. Our students experience a technologically rich learning environment through their secondary education and can then learn in the environment you describe as an undergraduate, but to make the succesful transfer between these environments they still must complete hand written assessment.

This provides the only excuse some teachers, who resist the use of learning technologies, need in order to justify their position.

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There is no doubt Graham, that as you rightly indicate the Uni of Melb has some very interesting initiatives and they are well worth exploring. My school sends a large cohort of students there each year and we have a close relationship with the university.

Good to hear that! My main contacts at the Uni of Melbourne are in the Language Centre. The Language Centre has played a key role in developing CALL (Computer Assisted Language Learning) - my area of work. Bob Debski is a leading figure in this field. He took over as as Director of the Language Centre from June Gassin.

Monash University also has made a major contribution to CALL. One of the gurus of Web-based CALL, Uschi Felix, is at Monash - along with my former colleague, Sally Staddon, who worked with me at Ealing College London in the 1980s and 1990s.

Australia has certainly made its mark in CALL. Some very good work is going on down under! :D

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