Here in South Australia, our education system is run by a curriculum framework SACSA, that is outcomes based so prescribed textbooks are non-existent and in the primary sector especially, teachers are responsible for creating their own curriculum. The framework is the guideline and so, in theory, we have the kind of opportunity you're talking about as a constant. Where your post struck a chord is when you talked about bringing in content. I have a personal example for you. My primary school has a focus on German as a second language (interesting choice for a school of 40% third and second generation Greek background kids) and we have about half the staff skilled in the German language. If you can't teach German to your own class, then you are paired up with someone who can. My class German teacher is a regular junior primary classroom teacher who was worried about the motivation level of eleven and twelve year olds who had already said that German was their least favourite subject at school. So our solution - turn the students into teachers by setting them the task of producing an interactive German computer game that could teach basic German words (colours, numbers, body parts) to our buddy class of five and six year olds. Suddenly, the learning of the second language had a real purpose, the games were for someone other than their teachers. So, for my fellow teacher the decision about what vocabulary to teach was dictated by the class as they created the games in Powerpoint and FrontPage. The kids got a lot more out of that task in terms of German language development compared to a set curriculum from a textbook. And it was a lot more fun!
At the national level, the Canadian government does almost nothing to support innovation in education and my provincial government (who is responsible for education) designs resources for schools to use, but does not monitor their use or support and promote centres that are using their tools in innovative ways. At bestin Canada, we have lab schools that are hooked to schools of education and are centres of new ideas, but their overall "effect" on education is regional at best.
We need to find ways to do better.....
This got me thinking about parallels in my own education system here in South Australia. We are a small state population wise and one initiative created in the mid 90's was the Technology School Of the Future - a place where computing initiatives were trialled, a lot of crystal ball gazing was involved and high tech education solutions were funded regardless of the barriers of practical implementation in mainstream classrooms. I remember going on a staff training session there when TSOF (the popular acronym) was out at The Levels and thinking that it was a real ivory tower. Everything they showed us was too expensive, too complex and required too much technical knowhow even for our newly appointed ICT Coordinator.
Eventually as schools became networked and the department made educational technology a focus, TSOF gained relevancy and a new address at Hindmarsh. When I-Movie first came out, TSOF had rooms full of Macs where you could spend the day editing footage with your students. Even up to a couple of years ago, if it was new to education, TSOF had it and the expertise to teach it to you. In 2002, Queen Elizabeth II got the royal tour of this cutting edge facility. I remember being involved in a Quality Teacher Program there, taking my class there for a day to use Audacity to add soundtracks to our Milestones In My Life projects and attending or presenting at the annual Exciting Learning Expo.
But the edge has gone from the place. Courses and professional development are now excessively expensive for the average teacher, it costs you a fee to book a room and the number and quality of presentations at the Expo has dropped. I've even heard of it being referred to by a colleague as "The School Of the Past". Ouch!
Obviously, TSOF is suffering from budgetary cutbacks and is being expected to "pay its own way ". But being a DECS site, why shouldn't it subsidise teachers to attend their courses? So Clarence's issue is an international one - even in the so called lucky country.
My boss forwarded the above mentioned policy for me to read through and evaluate a while back. It outlines the South Australian education system's proposed view forward in the world of educational technology until 2008. The draft policy is open for feedback until November 3O so my goal here is to create my own blog review which I may or may not send in to DECS Head Office.
The cover letter puts the proposed policy in context by reviewing The National Goals for Schooling in the Twenty-first Century, published in 1999 which stated:
All students will leave school as confident, creative and productive users of new technologies, including ICT [information and communication technologies] and understand the impact of those technologies on society.
Now whether that goal reflects current reality in South Aussie classrooms is open for debate. A lot of initiatives have come and gone in that 1999 - 2005 timeframe, and what was important for kids then has certainly evolved to today where Read/Write technology, social software and open source solutions are just nibbling at the edges of mainstream. Educational change cannot occur without teachers to provide the momentum - but let's face the facts, if you're reading educational blogs (let alone posting to your own), you are in the group of educators commonly referred to as "early adopters." Anyway, let's see what it says.
This sets the scene. Mention is made of students growing up is a digital world and there is a line drawn defining the technology (ICT) and what learners do with that technology (e-learning). This should help clarify the differing terms bandied around in schools over the last few years. IT sounded like a business term and Learnirg Technologies was too vague. (My friend, Lindsay would point out that a photocopier was a Learning Technology!) There is also reference to international research that backs up the use of ICT but surely there is Australian research that is more relevant. Why not reference the action research work done by our own teachers in the PLICT program? But I definitely agree with the final sentence in the section:
All educators have a responsibility to engage in e-learning to improve learning outcomes for today's children and tomorrow's global citizens.
In my view, there are still too many teachers who see ICT as an optional extra in the classroom, who think the teacher-librarian is the sole provider of information literacy skills. They have to accept the responsibility or re-evaluate their commitment to education.
VISION and POLICY STATEMENT
I'll review these two statements together because they represent the ideals not the implementation. The vision rightly focuses on the pedagogy and is open enough to include opportunities still to appear or be developed. Both statements acknowledge the need to participate in learning beyond our own Australian borders. How much interaction with the outside world that translates to in the classroom will be interesting to see.
CRITICAL SUCCESS FACTORS
This is an interesting section where the varying factors - educators, leaders, parents, content and environment - are all lined up with their critical dot points. Now I fall clearly into the first section so it's interesting that five out of the six dot points can be demonstrated via blogging. I think I would like to see the fourth point:-
· encourage participation and identity in online communities amended to
· encourage and model through active participation and development of own identity in online communities
It's a bit unrealistic for us to expect that students will develop participation and community identity through encouragement alone. Through our own experiences, we will be more effective guides - it's a bit like having a sports coach who's never played the sport he or she is now responsible for. It's interesting that one of the dot points for leaders is :
· participate in online communities
Why wouldn't that be a requirement for all educators from the Chief Executive down?
Most of the points are in recognition of the challenges in the immediate and longer term future. Recognition of keeping students safe online is a very important and topical issue at present and it would be very helpful to acknowledge the need for the teaching of skills and strategies to address this, rather than focussing solely on filters and firewalls.
The e-learning environment has an interesting reference to appropriate bandwidth which is separate from another point which talks about:-
· online connection anywhere and at any time
-: I'm not too sure why these two points have to mutually exclusive, and if the latter point is a vague way of addressing students who only have online access at school. There is definitely a digital divide amongst students in our schools and the more there are expectations of student learning shifting to an e-learning environment, the more disadvantaged the students on the wrong side of the divide. Any policy has to do more than just hint at this issue.
Now I'm not in the position of deciding where DECS funds should be spent but I'd hate to see expensive LMS solutions, restrictive software agreements and excessive investment in large scale Learning Objects taking preference to finding real solutions to address teacher expertise in e-learning and ensuring strategies are in place to give all learners equal bite of the e-learning access cherry. Get that right and this policy should guide DECS in the right direction.