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Change with Digital Technologies in Education


An  open educational resource (OER) written by New Zealand Masters of Education students in the University of Canterbury course 'Change with Digital Technologies in Education'. Edited by Niki Davis, Professor of e-Learning and Director of the University of Canterbury College of Education e-Learning Lab.


  • Gerard Macmanus

    I think the title gives the wrong picture for this stor

    I think the article in the Education Review - ICT and Procurement says it better,

    Stretching the possibilities


    There's plenty of work to do to support teachers who deliver online learning programmes: WAYNE ERB talks to PROFESSOR NIKI DAVIS.

    Towards the end of our discussion about New Zealand’s online learning landscape, Professor Niki Davis reaffirms the role of teachers with a striking example.

    Student teachers at the University of Canterbury train in online learning systems in order to understand what, as Davis puts it, is “socially possible”.

    That is, they need to look at how the relationship with students functions in cyberspace as much, if not more than, the computer technology which enables the process.

    Davis is professor of e-learning at Canterbury and president of the Distance Education Association (DEANZ). Preparing new teachers for the online environment is a passion and a field she contributed to internationally before settling in Christchurch two years ago.

    The conversation does not gloss over important advances in technology, however. The government is advancing its ultra-fast broadband agenda for schools. At both school and tertiary levels, a raft of so-called learning management systems and other advanced software are being trialled and refined. Davis notes our national predilection for open-source products like Mahara portfolios and Moodle, used to create online courses.

    At the school level, some regions are more ready than others, for example the Greater Christchurch Schools Network has a fibre optic loop already running.

    “We’re already working with teachers and students in schools to make effective use of resources on the web,” says Davis. The tertiary landscape is more mixed.

    “It is a little bit patchy,” she notes, while acknowledging the work of several organisations and some vivid examples of online teaching.

    An example: educators are using the virtual world Second Life as a vehicle for medical training simulations.

    “You play as avatars in there. One of the simulations is an emergency room. Doctors and nurses can train people who are new to the situation, they can simulate things that are not common in real life. Even the patient is played by an expert and they can modify their vital signs.”

    There are several motivations for online learning in New Zealand. Overcoming barriers of distance is one, creating situations not easily possible in real life another, and pooling resources across schools is yet another.

    In any case, Davis likes to remind teachers of what an American colleague once advised her about course design.

    “She said it’s got to be relevant and it’s got to be rigorous.”

    Teachers need to check they are meeting student needs, and they also can’t simply dump content – rigour includes sufficient support and assessment.

    To advance our use of e-learning, we need leadership at all levels, she says. She’s previously described an ‘ecology’ around the teacher and student: layers of support such as institutions, technology providers and politicians.

    “So a teacher can lead for a while but they will get exhausted if the ecology fights them. You will get best results when a teacher works in a sympathetic ecology, for example if their supervisor knows what is needed to support online learning.”

    She says 27 teachers in three South Island school clusters are developing blended lessons using online and in-person delivery. “Some of them are finding that relatively easy because the school understands what’s going on. Others find it stressful because the school isn't set up for it.”

    Barriers include internet bandwith (which she expects to improve soon) and professional knowledge.

    “School principals could do with a bit more knowledge and understanding of how e-learning works. And they will need to show leadership across schools to make the system work.”

    Teacher education programmes can do better at providing placements that give experience in online teaching, she says.

    “There's enormous scope. We have a lot of work to do.”

    e-Teach can lift core skills

    Research in raising literacy, language and numeracy skills among adults through e-learning shows computer-based simulation, online distance learning, availability of digital resources and the use of mobile phones to support course learning can improve the skills of adults in tertiary courses.

    The literacy, language and numeracy (LLN) research project was funded by the Ministry of Education and led by Professor Niki Davis and senior lecturer Jo Fletcher from the University of Canterbury’s College of Education.

    Fletcher says the successful use of mobile phones to support learning during a course was an interesting discovery. “The idea of using a mobile phone as part of student learning might seem strange but mobile phones can engage students in their learning via a technology with which they were familiar,” she says.

    Rates of illiteracy amongst New Zealand adults have dropped from 18 per cent in 2006 to a current level of 13 per cent. Davis, a world recognised e-learning and digital technologies researcher, says e-learning is relevant for most adults with literacy, language and numeracy learning needs. But the learning programme must be carefully designed to fit each individual’s needs and lifestyle, their proficiency with digital technologies, and level of reading literacy.”

    She says e-learning tools can make learning more enjoyable. “There’s one screen and it’s not overwhelming for them. They find it easier to absorb information via a computer rather than from a manual.

    “Many of the Pasifika students are worried about how they present themselves, and being able to put an answer into a computer seems not as scary for them because it looks good,” Davis says.

    The Tertiary Education Commission has recently developed an online assessment tool for use by tutors and individuals to diagnose learning difficulties. Many people have become adept at ways of masking these needs. The use of e-learning tools for increasing these skills can be blended as part of a course of study.

    Davis says their recommendation to tutors is to provide a range of delivery modes, including evening courses, workplace learning, family and community based programmes to encourage and support students. ESOL students can also benefit from the wide range of e-based language learning practice resources available.

    “Resources can and should be customised to support adult learners new to New Zealand and to e-learning.” She says the resources can be adapted and given add-on tools for specific populations to concurrently support the use of their first language and their development of English in the cultural context of New Zealand.

e-Learning: Leadership

e-Learning: Leadership

Exploring leadership for change, vision, policy and strategy that integrates ICTs into learning.