Where are we headed with technology in education?

Technology has never more rapidly evolved than in the last 100 years but will it keep changing at such a drastic rate?  Will we always feel a step behind in the classroom because it takes longer for technology to logistically reach the institute, and by the time it does, it is almost obsolete?  There has been some steady progressions of technology addressed in the Horizon Reports each year, however, I find that they do not cover everything for everyone and we are so behind in most instances.  I think that educators are only just catching up to the fact that technology allows for the educator to take a step back, loosen control and give more over to students, so that they can direct their own learning a bit more.

[youtube https://youtu.be/nA1Aqp0sPQo]

I get a little overwhelmed by the videos out there like the one above as it highlights just how real the impact of technology on the world is.  When I was in Year 6, I distinctly remember a class discussion where we pondered the future of education and speculated that it might include computers as teachers.  Well that has not exactly become reality, or has it? Whilst I do not believe we are headed towards completely transformed educational institutes, governed by androids who are the teachers and various forms of artificial intelligence, I do think that pedagogy and practice is changing.  Have a look at the Gartner Hype Cycle 2014 for emerging technologies and education below.

That’s a pretty real picture of what technology is going to be at the forefront of society in coming years.  If we look carefully at the cycle above, it will be in the next 5-10 years that technology explodes again into a world of more 3D printing, robotics, and wearable technologies.  However, will they reach the classroom?  If so, how and for what purpose and under what infrastructure, funding or initiatives?  Some provocation in such images, but I guess its a waiting game too.

Design-based research

Ever since I became a teacher, I have sort to improve my practice by way of further informal research into topic areas that may impact my professional effectiveness.  Early in my career I engaged in professional development on topics such as behaviour management (with Bill Rogers), project- and problem-based (with Intel), website design, webquest design, action research and so much more.  What is this type of ad hoc research strategy reminiscent of?  After doing some reading and reflection, I believe that my professional practice has seen me develop skills in design-based research, as a facilitator of professional improvement.  The image below shows the difference between traditionally adopted research and design-based research practice.

The way that I approached research was very much to figure out the exact nature of the problem I was facing in the classroom and to then do some internet research to develop solutions for these problems.  Behaviour/classroom management was of course a big issue for me in those early days and determining the main source of the problem was of course not easy, however, the students’ engagement and motivation proved to be a big factor in it.  I sort to explore more technically innovative ways to facilitate students’ learning opportunities to increase their motivation and engagement with the subject, creating Webquests and projects that would give them more autonomy and ownership over their learning.

My work towards finding a solution was not quick, and to be honest, I never mastered it of course, but I tried many different strategies and tools, both technical and pedagogical, to test and refine what might work best.  I always learned a lot from these experiences, and I still do this kind of research in the various roles I have taken since my first classroom teaching position.

I believe that no learning experience is complete without critical reflection and that is part of the design-based research paradigm, and the catalyst for it becoming a cycle that restarts based on critical reflection.

What makes a great learning object?

An emphasis on engagement is what Lowe et al. (2010) report as being key to the success of learning objects.  What is going to drive engagement for students with learning objects?  What visual and usability aspects are going to determine the success of a learning object in facilitating achievement of learning outcomes?  In Lowe et al. (2010), “Frydenberg, Ainley and Russell (2005, p. 2) define engagement as ‘energy in action, the connection between person and activity’ and indicate that ‘students will engage with tasks they find interesting, challenging and important’” (p. 229).

For me, a learning object should be the following things:

  • A good balance of visuals and text, more visuals preferably
  • Linear navigation, with transparent links
  • Clear links to curriculum and 21st century skills
  • Practical and easily applicable to something further

What a learning object should NOT be is:

  • A completely text-heavy activity
  • Complex set of hyperlinks to a variety of different areas
  • A long set of pages that do not flow or seem to work towards developing knowledge or understanding, or a specific outcome
  • A collection of videos and images that do not correlate to a common purpose

I feel that a learning object need not be much more than learning outcomes, a brief contextual/content outline, a multimedia file, and reflection activity.  This, in my online learning experiences, is very effective and follows Bloom’s taxonomy as well.

Lowe, K., Lee, L., Schibeci, R., Cummings, R., Phillips, R., & Lake, D. (2010). Learning objects and engagement of students in Australian and New Zealand schools. British Journal of Educational Technology41(2), 227-241.

Social networking and communities of practice

I greatly value the potential that social media presents for both my personal and professional life.  In my professional life, the impact has been surprising.  I received one of my job opportunities through social networking and the community created through social media.  I have used social networking to further my own professional knowledge and skills, demonstrating the enormous value that can be gained from social networking and online communities of practice. However, there are still many teachers who are reluctant to see the value of social media in their professional lives and who do not actively involve themselves in online communities of practice, or physical ones for that matter, because they don’t see the value in doing so.

In my leadership positions with technology, I have encouraged many educators in particularly the secondary and tertiary sectors, to embrace the affordances of social media.  I have typically shown them a YouTube clip, like one below, to serve as a catalyst highlighting the benefits that can be gained from social media and networking.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fQ3j6zf9Xms]

My next move would vary and from my experiences, I think a reflection on previous interactions with social media in an open discussion would be valuable, however, I also like to immerse participants who are learning about a new concept or tool, within an activity that makes use of just that.  Something that I would like to try is:

Get teachers to think about the last time they were involved in professional development and think about what they learned about.  Ask them then, to write a few points on what they learned using 140 characters or less.  Following up from that, get them to find links for supporting resources that relate to the points written and get bit.ly URLs for those links. Guide them then, in including those bit.ly URLs in the 140 characters of those points. Twitter is of course the tool I am implying use of in this example.

The aim of this activity outlined above is to demonstrate the ways in which Twitter, and other social media tools can be used, to disseminate professional knowledge and skills.  It provides a purpose for using social media and a way for starting to create social networks.

Developing custom learning objects

There are many ways that learning objects are defined, and no one universally accepted definition.  Common elements of learning objects appear to be:

  • Focus on learning objectives
  • A particular structure based on instructional design models
  • Use of metadata
  • Hosted in a database or digital library, providing opportunity for ratings and review
  • Simple interface and complex background infrastructure

So, what is the purpose in designing and developing custom learning objects?  For me, learning objects are designed to serve as learning activities providing content and facilitating experiences that lead to higher order use of new knowledge and skills.  The image below is a great summary of what a learning object is what the question still begs, how will this inform my development of custom learning objects?

For me, using the ADDIE model is the best way to develop a custom learning object.  The image below is great at explaining how the ADDIE model is relevant in this situation.  The analyse phase, is the one concerned with the key concepts in the content and developing the required tasks that will achieve the outcomes.  Design phases break it down into learning activities or steps, e.g. the different stages of a WebQuest.  It may also be appropriate here to design and deliver a pre-test in the learning object to identify background knowledge.  Going one step further, I think the develop stage is about the mode of delivering the learning object, the multimedia involved in engaging the learner. Scaffolding the instruction and developing instructional phases are to be developed in this stage as well, e.g. in a WebQuest this might be making sure that all instructions are clear and written with consistency.

When implementing a WebQuest, or perhaps a SCORM package that is a WebQuest, it will most likely need to be hosted in a learning management system.  This is the implementation phase, making the learning object available to the intended audience.  If there is face-to-face lessons that go with and support the learning object, working out the timing for this is also a key part of this phase.  Managing the student data developed during their completion of the learning activities should be determined here as well.  The final phase is of course evaluation.  Evaluating student data, any assessable objects and feedback given by students is a key part in assessing the effectiveness of a learning object in achieving the learning objectives and outcomes outlined in the first phases.  In a WebQuest or online SCORM package learning activity, I would include a student reflection form at the end of the module to gain feedback.

Learning objects in Scootle

I have know about Scootle since its beginning, and I have browsed it a little but I had not thought to consider evaluating the value of the learning objects being curated and shared in Scootle before.  Tonight I did a bit of browsing and one of the first resources I looked at after searching in Creative Arts > Music was a highly useful resource for visual arts and music lessons.  I have been teaching both of these subjects this term to a number of special needs students and the resource I came across is perfect for them.  I have evaluated the resource based on an checklist in Haughey. Margaret and Muirhead, B. (2005). Evaluating learning objects for schools.  Retrieved 25 March, 2015 from http://www.usq.edu.au/electpub/e-jist/docs/vol8_no1/fullpapers/Haughey_Muirhead.pdf. The resource I am looking at is Visual Art Starters: Painting the Music.

[youtube https://youtu.be/jxXCXZb6m8I]

The resource is aimed at F-2 years in primary schools, however, being that my classes in this instance are special needs and doing lifeskills, this is a suitable resource.  The resource addresses appropriate outcomes and content descriptors and it also says in the teacher guide section that:

“The resource has pedagogical value for the Visual Arts curriculum. The activities provide a framework for students to explore drawing and painting through different elements including colour, shape, texture and pattern, while drawing and painting to music; they offer opportunities for students to work both independently and as a class.”

“The resource can also contribute to students developing the general capability Personal and social capability, particularly in relation to self-awareness and recognising emotions.”

What I loved straight away with this resource was the way the activities were scaffolded under the headings of learn, apply, respond and extend.  These headings are tabs down the left hand side and really support ease of navigation for the users.  Downloadable objects are also very obvious, however, as an advocate for Open Education Resources, I am disappointed that the worksheets are not Creative Commons and available in a format that can be edited for customised usage.

The learning intentions and objectives are very clear in the introductory video for students and the teacher section offers substantial explanation of curriculum links and learning intentions. It is great to find resources that do this for educators.

Pedagogically I believe the resource does a fantastic job of scaffolding the learning experience by introducing the topic and activities with a video that explains the whole process in really easy to follow, simple detail.  The video also helps to make connections with students’ background knowledge and make good learning connections.  The addition of extension activities and a glossary of terms supports the whole activity by catering for differentiation in learning abilities as well.

This activity is great for making connections with students’ personal culture, backgrounds and values.  It is a very open and subjective task that facilitates student expression.

I’ve experienced a digital sharing space where there was the ability for others to comment on how they used learning objects in their own context and I feel that Scootle would be enhanced if there was a more open discussion thread allowed, not just a one-post-only review system.  It is great thought that we can rate and like the resources, and include tags.

Critical thinking and problem-solving technology solutions

When it comes to critical thinking, problem-solving, inquiry learning and higher-order thinking there is much that can be facilitated by technology.  First, however, what are the common threads between the models that cover these concepts.

Critical thinking

Criticalthinking.org. (2015).

Problem solving

Cothink.com. (2013).

Inquiry learning

Socstudmethods.wikispaces.com. (2015).

Higher-order thinking

Higherorderthinkingskills1358fst.blogspot.com.au. (2011).

It can be observed in each of these models that there is somewhat of a cycle and a hierarchy to each.  Analysis, inference and evaluation are key aspects of each model, as is reflection and observation.  Each model highlights the need for multiple skills in a range of areas and I do believe that technology support these.  Over the years there has been numerous examples of Blooms taxonomy that have outlined the technology tools and apps appropriate for facilitating critical thinking and problem solving at each level.  The example below shows some of the great online tools that support higher-order thinking.

When I have designed project- or problem-based learning programs, I have always make good use of technology affordances.  PBL is student-centred and student-driven and they are required to find and discover the bulk of information and answers for themselves, and to produce an end product that is a culmination of that learning.  This is more and more effective with the integration of technology for productivity and organisation, as well as for information and creative reasons.  The inquiry process is a little different (see below), however, inquiry learning is still very much about problems and finding a solution. Technology such as Google apps, is always going to be valuable in such activities and units of work.

The BEST method I think I could and have ever used to get my students to think more critically is to answer their questions with a question, and make them think more.  Like leading a horse to water, as the saying goes, we need to stop thinking of ourselves as the information provider and remember that we are a facilitator who should show the way and then help them to discover new and exciting things as they go.  I wish I could get my students to think for themselves all the time and not expect answers and all knowledge to come from others, they have so much more information at their fingertips than we ever had as students but they don’t know it because they can’t find it.  Therein lies another problem of itself.


Cothink.com,. (2013). CoThink – Facilitators & consultants – CoThink. Retrieved 22 March 2015, from http://www.cothink.com/ratio-approach

Criticalthinking.org,. (2015). 2008 Preconference Sessions (28th Intl. Conference. Retrieved 22 March 2015, from http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/preconference-sessions/631

Higherorderthinkingskills1358fst.blogspot.com.au,. (2011). H.O.T.S: April 2011. Retrieved 22 March 2015, from http://higherorderthinkingskills1358fst.blogspot.com.au/2011_04_01_archive.html

Socstudmethods.wikispaces.com,. (2015). SocStudMethods – Stripling Model of Inquiry. Retrieved 22 March 2015, from http://socstudmethods.wikispaces.com/Stripling+Model+of+Inquiry