Category Archives: eLearning

Does ICT assist learning?

The latest report from the OECD titled Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection has attracted lots of attention in the past week. The report's main claim is that computers do not improve student results, and news feeds around the world have picked up on this using headlines suggesting school technology struggles to make an impact and  schools are wasting money on computers for kids.

Lying behind the headlines are revelations that technology in the classroom leads to poorer performance among pupils is that it can be distracting and that syllabuses have not become good enough to take make the most of the technologies available. There are also concerns about plagiarism with concerns that if students can simply copy and paste answers to questions, it is unlikely to help them become smarter.

Such headlines are bound to appeal to the 'digital doubters' and those calling for 'back to basics' as the panacea to education's woes – but what does this report really tell us? Given the level of investment involved with the use of technology it's certainly not inappropriate to ask whether it makes a difference, but in doing this we need to ask: “Difference in what?"

The OECD researchers found no appreciable improvements in student achievement in reading, mathematics or science in the countries that had invested heavily in ICT for education. It adds that the use of technology in schools has done little to bridge the skills divide between advantaged and disadvantaged students. The report concludes that ensuring that every child reaches a baseline level of proficiency in reading and mathematics seems to do more to create equal opportunities in a digital world than can be achieved by expanding or subsidizing access to high-tech devices and services.

Of course there's nothing new in studies comparing educational outcomes using technology with those that don't. Back in the early 1990s the "No Significant Difference" study provided an analysis of several hundred reports comparing student outcomes between face to face and distance delivery courses. It concluded that an overwhelming number of studies showed that when the course materials and teaching methodology were held constant, there were no significant differences (NSD) between student outcomes in a distance delivery course as compared to a face to face course. 

One interpretation of the NSD conclusion holds that the use of technology to deliver courses does no harm – that is, face to face learning has no inherent advantage to students over learning at a distance. The other interpretation is that technology does not help – and if a course can be delivered for less expense without technology, there is no need to use technology at all. 

In the early 1990s Stanford historian of technology in education, Larry Cuban set out to find out if computers were changing education practice. His findings mirror the original NSD study. In his book he writes "In the schools we studied, we found no clear and substantial evidence of students increasing their academic achievement as a result of using information technologies." Further, he found "…the overwhelming majority of teachers employed the technology to sustain existing patterns of teaching rather than to innovate."  In other words, by simply using the ICTs as a substitute for traditional approaches it was not surprising to Cuban and his colleagues to find no significant difference in achievement. 

Acknowledgement of this is made in the foreword to the OECD report…

The report leaves many questions unanswered. The impact of technology on education delivery remains sub-optimal, because we may overestimate the digital skills of both teachers and students, because of naïve policy design and implementation strategies, because of a poor understanding of pedagogy, or because of the generally poor quality of educational software and courseware.

So here remains a big question for us to answer as educators, leaders and policy makers: "is the apparent lack of 'difference' in achievement attributable purely to the affordances of the technology, or is it more to do with the wider issues of teacher and student digital skills, pedagogical practices, assessment regimes etc.?" 

In their response to the NSD phenomenon, Diana Oblinger and Brian Hawkins of Educause suggest that asking whether technology makes a difference in student learning implies that learning is a high-tech or no-tech phenomenon. They argue the issue is not that simple. Learning occurs as a result of motivation, opportunities, an active process, interaction with others, and the ability to transfer learning to a real-world situation. 

This is the key focus of educational leadership guru, and more recently technology advocate Michael Fullan. His book Stratosphere: Integrating Technology, Pedagogy, and Change Knowledge is about how the ideas embedded in the new technology, the new pedagogy, and the new change knowledge are converging to transform education for all. Fullan claims that…

Technology has had its own pace, wildly outstripped the other two in sheer quantity and in aimless quality. It is now time to reconcile how technology can join the fray in a more purposeful way in order to transform learning for educators and learners in the 21st century.

The OECD's Andreas Schleicher appears to support this position in his final paragraph in his foreword to the report:

If we want to mobilise support for more technology-rich schools, we need to become better at communicating the need and building support for change. We need to invest in capacity development and change-management skills, develop sound evidence and feed this evidence back to institutions, and back all that up with sustainable financing. Last but not least, it is vital that teachers become active agents for change, not just in implementing technological innovations, but in designing them too.

Computers can be useful when teachers sufficiently understand the technology themselves, believe it will enhance learning, and have the power to shape their own curricula. But these conditions can’t be met without a broader and deeper commitment to public education beyond preparing workers. More attention needs to be paid to the civic and social goals of schooling, goals that make the question of how many computers are in classrooms trivial. As the OECD report points out…

Empowering young people to become full participants in today’s digital public space, equipping them with the codes and tools of their technology-rich world, and encouraging them to use online learning resources – all while exploring the use of digital technologies to enhance existing education processes, such as student assessment or school administration – are goals that justify the introduction of computer technology into classrooms. (OECD report, page 186)

So what are some lessons for us all in this…

  1. Don't read the headlines only, read the substance of the report to find out what is really being reported.
  2. Take note of what the report confirms about comparative studies – if it can be done without technology then it possibly should.
  3. Consider the appropriate response to concerns about plagiarism and digital distraction in your school.
  4. Don't expect technology to, on its own, result in improved student outcomes. 
  5. Don't give up on the idea of embracing technology in your school – but ensure it's not simply as a substitute for existing approaches
  6. Improving levels of digial literacy and digital fluency among teachers and learners is vital – where is our PD focus?
  7. Focus on how technology, combined with new pedagogies and change knowledge, can transform our practices as educators.



Teaching in a digital age


Tony Bates has done it again – completing an extremely useful volume on ‘Teaching in A Digital Age: Guidelines for designing teaching and learning for a digital age’. It’s available online in a range of formats and its FREE! It’s an excellent resource.

There's something in this book for everyone involved in education in the digital age – from an examination of the drivers of change in education and the changing nature of knowledge, to an analysis of the pedagogical benefits of particular technologies, an overview of MOOCs and online teaching and a few chapters designed to translate all of this into practical, effective teaching in a digital world. 

At nearly 500 pages it's one of those volumes you'll want to dip in and out of, with sections broken down into easily digestible 'chunks', each with a call to action included to provide a focus for how this may be translated into something meaningful in your own context. 

I particularly liked the breakdown and explanation of a 'learning environment' that is added as an appendix – the broad definition Bates references appeals to me:

Learning environment refers to the diverse physical locations, contexts, and cultures in which students learn. Since students may learn in a wide variety of settings, such as outside-of-school locations and outdoor environments, the term is often used as a more accurate or preferred alternative to classroom, which has more limited and traditional connotations—a room with rows of desks and a chalkboard, for example. The term also encompasses the culture of a school or class—its presiding ethos and characteristics, including how individuals interact with and treat one another—as well as the ways in which teachers may organize an educational setting to facilitate learning…..’ (The Glossary of Educational Reform, 29 August, 2014)

If we situate our thinking about modern learning/teaching in a digital age within this broad understanding of a learning environment then our appropriation of the ideas, frameworks and strategies suggestd by Bates in his book will be more likely to yield the results our digital age students deserve. 

Priorities for a better world


Continuing with my learnings from the DEANZ conference in Christchurch – we've been hearing a lot about how the use of open, flexible and distance learning strategies can assist in achieving global connections that lead to meaningful and pursposeful change for a better world into the future. 

One of the morning's speakers has been Dr Jonghwi Park, programme specialist in ICT in Education at UNESCO Bangkok. She provided us with an excellent overview of initiatives that are in place to address UNESCO's Millennium Development Goals, with an overarching emphasis on education as a way of addressing this. 

The importance of engaging with communities from around the world in developing a collective view of what is important and where we should expend our energies (and money) is important here. Dr Park introduced us to the MyWorld2015 initative where individuals can set their top six priorities for change, and then become a part of a global community contributing ideas and actions to achieve this. 

It's interesting to note that to date, over 2 million people have contributed, with education appearing at the top of the priority list based on the votes from these people (see below)

myworld graph_s

As New Zealand teachers prepare to go back to school for the new term next week, this site may well be worth bookmarking as a place to take your students as a starting point for some authentic, inquiry-based social action projects.



Motivating and retaining learners online

Bonk_TECVARIETYI've had the privilege of participating in the DEANZ conference, surrounded by a veritable smorgasbord of national and international experts in the field of open, flexible and distance learning. 

This morning we had Curtis Bonk join us by video conference for a short presentation as a part of the SITE panel presentation on teacher education. Curt introduced us to the book that he has co-authored with NZer Elaine Khoo from Waikato University titled Adding some TEC-VARIETY – 100+ activities for motivating and retaining learners online

This book has been released just today as a free download viat the TEC-VARIETY website.

The book's title is an acronym for the 10 fully documented successful motivational principles for engaging online learners that the authors have identified. 

The content is a useful mix of theoretical underpinnings and practical strategies to be employed – making it an essential addition to the library of anyone involved in planning, developing or facilitating online learning programmes.

In addition to print and Kindle versions, this book is freely available to you as an interactive PDF document to download, share, and use both in total as well as by chapter; see

Innovating Pedagogy 2013

innovatingPeadagogy2013This second report written by a small group of academics in the Institute of Educational Technology and the Faculty of Mathematics, Computing and Technology at The Open University proposes ten innovations that are already in currency but have not yet had a profound influence on education. The list includes many of the same technologies identified in similar lists and trends elsewhere (inlcuding CORE's ten trends), which of itself is indicative of the fact that we ought to be at least mindful of what these things are and the potential impact they may have on what we do as educators. 

Like their 2012 list, the emphasis is on the tertiary space, but with lots to inform what is happening and likely to happen in the school sector. 

Interesting to me is the fact that this list contains some of the same elements as the previous list, but doesn't really illustrate the connection between the two – to illustrate the 'trending' that is occurring, and how the ecology of education is being impacted by the technologies identified. The question this raises for me is…

"Does the fact that some of the things appear to have 'dropped off' the list in subsequent years mean that that:

  1. the prediction was wrong and didn't eventuate? 
  2. that the prediction did come to fruition and is now a part of the mainstream? or
  3. that the prediction has perhaps 'morphed' into one of the emerging themes identified?"

Compare the two lists here….

2012 2013
  1. Personal inquiry learning 
  2. Seamless learning 
  3. MOOCs
  4. Assessment for learning 
  5. New pedagogy for e-books 
  6. Publisher-led short courses 
  7. Badges to accredit learning
  8. Rebirth of academic publishing 
  9. Learning analytics
  10. Rhizomatic learning
  1. Badges to accredit learning
  2. Citizen inquiry
  3. Crowd Learning
  4. Digital scholarship
  5. Geo-learning
  6. Learning analytics
  7. Learning from gaming
  8. Maker culture
  9. MOOCs
  10. Seamless learning

It's easy enough to come up with lists, but understanding how these sorts of predictions eventuate is the real issue here, and where the real focus of attention needs to be (IMHO). Technological innovation (e.g. in NZ) has a history of failed attempts, false starts, and unforeseen consequences, alongside the 'disruptive' technologies that get to feature in the headlines.

In education it's easy enough to get caught up in the latest fad or fashion, but to understand deeply where these things may be taking us, and the potential impact on our work in the classroom and the pedagogies associated with that requires lots of ongoing communication, sharing and exploration of ideas. I'm grateful to the people at the OU for this contribution to the conversation, and challenge educators now to participate in the ongoing conversations that demonstrate the accuracy of these predictions…

  • where/how are you using or seeing these things used effectively?
  • in what ways are they actually shaping your pedagogical practice?
  • what are the actual drivers involved? The institution? The technology? The learners?
  • what are the barriers and emerging frustrations you see?
  • what are the opportunities and unexpected outcomes you observe?

Lots of food for thought… let's get the conversations going!

The PDF version of the report can be downloaded here


Blended learning guide

BlendedLearningGuideThe term blended learning appears in so much educational policy and literature nowadays, but with so much variation in the way it is interpreted and implemented. 

The Blended Learning Implementation Guide recently released by Digital Learning Now (DLN) is designed to guide school and district leaders through the process of successfully shifting to a blended learning model with a strategic and comprehensive plan.

A couple of key drivers behind this shift are (a) the developments in technology that are enabling far greater reach in terms of where and when learning occurs, and (b) the increasing focus on personalisation of the learning experience. 

The guide uses a simple four-stage process to provide practical support and guidance for schools wanting to move in this direction, from creating the conditions for success through to continuous improvement. 

As the introduction to the guide points out, blended learning isn't just another initiative to add to all the other things we have to contend with, rather, it is a fundamental re-design in the way we think about and provide for the education of learners in our schools. It involves rethinking the organisation of our schools and classes, how time is used, and how limited resources are allocated. It involves new roles for teachers and learners, and embraces parents and caregivers in new types of relationships as part of the learning process. It also relies heavily on robust technological infrastructure and services to support it all.

Looking past the very US-centric context for which this guide is written, it's among the best I've come across so far for providing a 'big picture', yet very practical outline to guide what a school might do to embrace a blended learning methodology.

For those interested, my friend Nancy White today published an interesting post on her FullCircle blog titled The Value of Hybrid/Blended learning in which she argues for the benefits of blended learning in a variety of contexts in which she is or has been working. I particularly like the graphic at the head of her post which provides a useful way of thinking about the various forms a blended approach may take. 


Thinking strategically about technology in schools


I had the privilege of attending the NZ Christian Schools Educ8NOW conference held at Elim Christian College today, where I presented a couple of workshops and hosted two 'connect' sessions for general discussion. My workshops focused on strategic issues – the first around how we can strategically plan our school's professional learning and development programme so that it caters for both personal needs and helps us achieve school wide goals. The second workshop was on using a pedagogical decision making model to support our thinking about technology investment, to ensure anything we do actually supports the teaching and learning in our schools and classrooms, as opposed to being introduced independent of that sort of thinking. 

My two presentations are available on Slideshare, and are linked from the presentations tab on this blog, and also from the links below:

Using a Concerns-based adoption model to plan effective PLD in your school

Using a pedagogically driven decision making process to make informed technology investment decisions


Why blended learning can’t stand still


Blended learning is certianly the buzz-word at many levels of our education system at the moment. Seems that students in both the school system and in tertiary insitituions are being offered 'blended' approaches to how they can engage with their learning. Plus there's also the whole area of professional development which is becoming more 'blended'. 

So how are these approaches working – and are they really helping take us forward towards the visions for 21st century learning tht we are seeking to acheive?

The study from the The Lexington Institute titled Why Blended Learning Can't Stand Still: A Commitment to Constant Innovation Is Needed to Realize the Potential of Individualized Learning," examines ways blended learning is affecting K-12 education, for better or worse.

While the title sounded appealing – the report really focuses on the role of technology and provides more of an anlysis of a 'technology-rich' approach to education, than on blended learning specificlly. 

Despite this, the key finding of the study is something we need to take notice of, and that is, any use of educational technology (and thus blended learning) is ineffective without ways of analyzing its results. No surprises here, but a salient reminder that we must always be reflecting on and adapating our teaching behaviours in response to what we see happening in order to ensure that the goals we are aiming for are being met.

Here's where the link to blended learning is made. The report identifies that the use of educational technologies (ICTs) should be enabling blended approaches – focusing on empowering independent learners and supporting learner-centred programmes.

Schools that use technology to deliver content, collect data, or improve technical literacy are not engaged in blended learning when they are simply marrying technology to traditional methods," the report says.

The report provides case studies from a number of US schools where ICTs are being used to differentiate instruction (and lessons) based on specific students' learning levels and needs. In these schools the common characteristics include:

  • Constant, real-time data monitoring being used to streamline the formerly arduous task of analyzing student results.
  • Teachers having more time to plan and individualize lessons to accelerate and enhance learning.
  • Continuously looking for ways to improve their own models and re-think overall instructional design.

We've read it a thousand times before – using new tools to do old things in old ways won't lead to any change, and in fact, will stifle innovation and likely lead to even more cynicism in the system. So it is with blended learning. We need to be constantly examining our practice to ensure we're meeting the expectations of our learners.  

An Introduction to Technology Integration

Edutopia have just released the video above to illustrate how effective technology integration is achieved when its use supports curricular goals. I'm always on the lookout for clips like this that may be helpful in my work with teachers, and like so many I've watched, this reminds me of how difficult it is for us as educators to constructively and effectively find the words to explain and describe what's being acheived with technology for a broad audience. 

The video begins with Salmar Khan, founder of the Khan Academy, describing his excitement about how technology is now transforming what we do with the classroom, and transforming the things that happen within it. I find the concept of transformation in education personally motivating – something I believe we need to be working towards achieving, and Salmar Kahn's work with the videos in the Khan Academy is certainly an example of a transformational approach. 

All too often, however, our thinking about transformation is limited by the existing practices, structures and expectations of our schooling system, so that what actually occurs is more of a 'veneer' over what we currently do. This is reinforced for me by the next quote in the video which labels technology as 'just a tool' – and that it's what we do with it that we need to focus on. While I'd certainly not disagree that it's our use of the technology that is important, I do have problems with the notion that technology is just a tool. This sort of thinking leads inevitably to a 'substitution' mentality – where once we used a blackboard as a tool, now we use a data projector, or a word processor instead of a pen or pencil. As Marshall McLuhan alerted us to some decades ago, the "medium is the message", and in his work with the tetrad of media effects, he demonstrated the ways a new techology/medium may change the overall milieu of the present. 

So, when I hear discussion of 'integration' of technology in education, I often observe the objective is limited by the expectation that the new technology will simply be used to support, enhance or expand existing practices. e.g.

  • using a word processor for written expression (instead of a pen/pencil)
  • creating videos or podcasts as an alternative to writing essays or making posters
  • creating slideshows to support oral presentations

In and of themselves, these things aren't transformational – they're substitutional. What makes them transformative is when we 'let go' of our traditional notions of what is important in this process (e.g. who decides on the timing, the purpose, the assessment etc of the learning) and move to a place where the learning and the learner's ability to control what is happening becomes the focus. 

This is where the Edutopia video provides some valuable insights – although they're somewhat buried in the script – about two of the ways technology empowers learners to act, think and learn differently. The first is…

When you create  you take ownership of your learning, you understand it in a different way…

and the second…

Kids respond better when they can share their learning.. to an authentic audience.

(please excuse the liberties taken in the transcription). 

These two learning behaviours – create and share – are a part of the pedagogical model I promoted in a blog post last year. The top layer of this model was developed collaboratively with my colleague Russell Burt from Point England School, and is grounded in the practical experience of learning that he and his staff have been following over the past few years. The focus here isn't on doing old things in new ways – but on discovering the empowering potential of the new technologies to do new things in new ways, ways that enable individual learners to learn-create-share, and experience success in their learning. 

The other important thing that this video highlights is emphasised towards the end of the clip, particuarly in the final credits, where the claim is made that student achievement is likely to be improved where a mix of face-to-face and online approaches is provided. I couldn't agree more, and earlier this year posted a blog claming that the future is blended. This is something that we need to consider seriously in the way we organise, support and manage learning in our schools. When we now have students learning content by searching the Web, or by watching YouTube or Khan Academy videos, what is the role/purpose of classroom time? 

So – a useful video? Well, it certainly got me thinking about the work I do with teachers, and the sorts of professional conversations we have as a result. I think its usefulness will be in the conversations it stimulates (such as the thinking I've shared here), and the provocations it provides to do things differently. In terms of actually illustrating or exemplifying any of the changed practice we're talking about, I'd rate it only five out of ten. 

ICTs and Teacher Workload

I've been in a number of meetings recently where I hear a lot of the same old comments from teachers and school leaders about the use of ICTs in school, and the fact that this whole area seems to absorb so much time and thinking – and for what? Much of the conversation appears to be focus on the imact on teacher workload than student learning.

This sort of issue often goes un-resolved in staffrooms, with the 'evangalists' on one side gushing with enthusiasm and assumptions, and the 'stick-in-the-muds' on the other, complaining of no time for PD and too much time spent on compliance etc.

Truth is, there's a case that can be made on both sides, and it's only through a more disciplined approach to discovering what the drivers and consequences might be that we're likely to make any progress. So it is with interest that I re-discovered a publication out of the UK that is now 7 years old, but still provides some useful insights and evidence. Titled, Using ICT in Schools: Addressing Teacher Workload issues, this report aims to explore effective leadership and management strategies for the deployment of ICT among teachers and support staff within schools, including training and support structures. The research also looks at the extent to which the effective use of ICT can address teacher workloads and the experience and perceptions of the schools workforce towards the use of ICT.

Key findings in the report include:

  • ICT does help to address workload for some teachers, especially those who are confident in using it.
  • However, in some cases, teachers feel ICT increases their workload, with some tasks taking longer to complete.
  • To reduce teacher workloads in more schools in future, ICT strategies will need to include specific workload aims – although this should not be at the expense of continuing to find ways in which ICT can raise quality and pupil performance.
  • There will need to be improvements in ICT strategic planning in which strategic aims, hardware, software, connectivity, technical support and staff training and development, and support to overcome cultural barriers, are planned for in a cohesive way.
  • The more teaching experience a teacher has, the less likely they were to feel that ICT had a positive effect on addressing their workload.

No surprises there, then – it reads like a bit of a "bob-each-way" sort of conclusion, depending on which side of the fence you sit. But digging a little deeper into the report I was interested to read the following:

From a statistical analysis of teachers’ survey responses in the fieldwork schools, we found teachers were most likely to perceive ICT had reduced their workload when:

  • They were consulted on their ICT needs
  • The school planned strategically for procuring ICT infrastructure and content
  • They had sole access to a desktop computer in school
  • They had the use of e-mail
  • They perceived that ICT allowed or could allow support staff to undertake administration and clerical tasks
  • They had the use of school ICT networks.

Now there's some useful evidence that could be used to guide the decision making that is taking place right now in schools around the country as they seek to upgrade their infrastructure and ICT systems to take advantage of Ultrafast Broadband (UFB).

A couple of other parts of the report (towards the end) that caught my eye are worth taking note of in this context. The first relates to the some of the systems and structures required to be in place to support the use of ICTs by teachers:

Based on findings from the fieldwork, well grounded strategies to achieve workload reductions using ICT would find ways to deliver:

  • Alignment between ICT and other school policies. For example, there is little point expecting ICT to reduce the time taken for teacher planning if the school requires overly bureaucratic plans, or unnecessarily constrains teachers from cutting and adapting material from other sources
  • Good access to ICT for home and school use – this boosts confidence, which we know to be associated with achieving efficiencies
  • Staff training so that staff know when to use ICT and how to use it effectively and not simply how to use it
  • Systems that are fully and properly maintained at all times, in a cost effective way
  • Good access to content, for example making use of network material, and of shared areas to share and develop materials.

The second relates to issues of leadership, and the importance of leaders who are active in leading the use of ICTs in their schools:

Leadership factors cited as having positive effects on the effective outcome of ICT strategies include:

  • Leading by example i.e. demonstrating the use and benefits of ICT in line with the strategic vision through their own practical use of ICT
  • A clear communication of the vision and involvement of the wider staff in developing ICT strategy in order to ensure that ICT strategy is grounded in the practical needs of staff and encompasses all areas of the school
  • A consideration of the school’s wider objectives and how the ICT strategy can help to achieve these, avoiding the development of a strategy which details ICT deployment for its own sake
  • A consideration of the ‘big picture’ of strategy deployment in the school and how an ICT strategy can sit alongside and complement this.

Plenty of food for thought here to guide school leaders and others responsible for supporting or facilitting the effective use of ICTs in schools. Nothing new for those who have been working in this area for some time, but we do seem to be guilty of repeating the errors of the past, so useful to reflect on these findings at a time when so much forward planning is taking place.