In 2007, Kevin Rudd during the Australian Labor Party election campaign, made several promises that were packaged as the Digital Education Revolution. This he articulated would bring Australian schools in the forefront of educational innovation and would ensure our students are well prepared for the future digital economy. This was one of three key platforms, which saw him elected as the twenty-sixth Prime Minister of Australia, in November 2007. The focus points of the Digital Education Revolution platform are the connection of schools to the national broadband network, training students in the technology of tomorrow, giving every secondary student access to their own computer at school and linking school networks to students at home. However well intended, and certainly the Australian public bought into the promise, there is so much more needed to ensure that the overarching promise of making every secondary school in Australia a digital school. This paper will take a closer look at the focus points of this political platform and whether the implementation will really result in seeing long term innovation and transformation teaching and learning occurring in our classrooms.
A CLOSER LOOK OF THE DIGITAL EDUCATION REVOLUTION
1. Connecting Australia’s schools to the National broadband network
Connecting “more than 9000 primary and secondary school to the national broadband network at speeds of up to 100 megabytes per second” (Rudd, 2007) will allow students and teachers nationwide to access information, media and tools at a faster rate ensuring “just in time” teaching and learning to occur. Eight years ago, Keegan (2002, p.11) noted that “the development of broadband technology is of vital importance because one needs extensive bandwidth for pictures, audio, video and virtual realities”, and these are the very applications which are most likely to be selected by teachers to integrate into their pedagogy, as they are easy to find and they can easily demonstrate how they meet curriculum outcomes. Significant obstacles remain, however, before the full promise of digital media in education can even be approached (Clark, Alchediak, & Rabinowitz, 2005, p.22), creating a learning environment where our students are able to access fast broadband connections is not as simple as connecting the broadband to the schools. Infrastructure needs to be put into place, data points, wireless connectivity devices, servers, just to name a few and all of this is going to be a funding burden to schools, where funding is already limited and stretched beyond the abilities of even the most creative business managers. “Uniform funding for appropriate tools must be found across all school systems to erase the digital divide between the “haves and have-nots” (Clark, Alchediak, & Rabinowitz, 2005, p.22).
2. Training students in the technology of tomorrow
Technology changes so rapidly in today’s world, that it is difficult to specify what the technologies of tomorrow would look like and how they would be utilized within our future society. Keegan (2002, p.167-168) noted that “the emerging technologies are leading to the development of many new opportunities to guide and enhance learning that were unimagined even a few years ago,” and this was at the beginning of the mobile revolution before the world wide proliferation of not only smart phones on the market, but also other mobile communication devices. Keeping this in mind, trying to ensure that our “students of tomorrow are properly trained in technology” (Rudd, 2007) is a rather ambitious goal, considering we can not be certain what technology skills will be required for the future. The other consideration, is who is going to “properly train” our students in these technologies? The phrase “properly train” infers that the teachers would be experts in using these technologies and would be conducting the training to an unfamiliar audience. This is a naive perspective, because not only is it propagating the belief that teachers are the holder of all knowledge and that our students are empty vessels that need filling, but also that our teachers are proficient at using digital technologies, and are able to apply these skills in an educational setting. The notion of students being empty vessels is no longer in vogue within the education profession, with anecdotal evidence suggesting that many teaching professionals and educational institutes are now embracing constructionist and connectionism views of learning.
The United Nations (2008, p.1) recognizes that “to live, learn and work successfully in an increasingly complex, information-rich and knowledge-based society, students and teachers must utilize technology effectively”, but do our practicing teachers have the skills and knowledge to ensure that digital pedagogy is integral in their day to day practices?Although teacher professional development in the area of embedding information communication technologies in their pedagogy, has been a major focus of state education departments nationwide during the past five years (Government of South Australia Department of Education and Children’s Services, 2010; Northern Territory Department of Education and Training, 2010; Queensland Government Department of Education and Training, 2010; State of Victoria Department of Education, 2010; Western Australia Department of Education, 2010), anecdotal evidence suggests that there still seems to be only pockets of digital literacy proficiency among those responsible for teaching our future citizens. The key to digital technologies being successfully embedded and becoming integral to the learning outcomes of our students, research shows that teachers knowledge of how to effectively and appropriately use these digital tools is imperative (Clark, Alchediak, & Rabinowitz 2005; United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization 2008; Ray & Coulter 2010; Littlejohn, Margaryan &Vojt 2010). Clearly there needs to be further research in this area to see how well prepared teachers really are to implement digital technologies in their classrooms daily practices and for those that are not prepared how does this impact on students learning outcomes.
3. Every Australian Secondary Student to be able to access their own computer at school
In 2007, Kevin Rudd pledged “If elected, Federal Labor will undertake a ground breaking reform by providing for every Australian secondary student from years nine to twelve access to their own computer at school.” This proclamation implies that secondary students would be able to bring their own personal devices to school to utilize as learning tools, but this is not the case in many schools within Australia. Seventy-six percent of our secondary students either own or have access to mobile technologies (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2009), and are using these regularly outside the confines of the school environment to learn, collaborate, create and critique with their peers. However schools, and the organizations within which they are umbrellaed often have policies in place where personal devices are banned from being brought into the learning environment, or they need to be signed into the office and handed over at the beginning of the day and picked up at the end of the day. This misguided and narrow view of digital devices educational value means that great opportunities for one to one computing learning environments are missed. “These technologies could, with very little effort, make it possible to implement one-to-one computing, initiatives in every school – if they were permitted on campus” states Brooks-Young (2010, p.13). Interestingly, our educational political counterparts in New Zealand stated recently that “it seems draconian to keep tapping into 20th century technology if 21st century technology seems to work with these kids” (Herald Sun, June 14 2010).
“This is an education revolution. I want to turn every secondary school in Australia into a digital school. I want provide every secondary school student with the foundations to move into the digital economy of the future” continued Mr Rudd at the campaign launch (Australianlabor, 2007). Although this is a noble desire, and a politically emotive pledge, it is not a well thought out vision for our educational future. If the federal government really wanted to ensure that our students are armed with the tools and skills they need to have a solid foundation to be successful in the digital economy of the future, then they would have ensured the funding be available to both primary and secondary students. By limiting it to just the secondary schools, the risk is that many students have already disengaged with learning within schools by the time they have entered secondary school (Tadich, Deed, Campbell & Prain, 2007), because they can not utilize the tools they instinctively use to learn within the structured environment of the school. Ultimately the tools which students are already proficient in using and are familiar with when they begin their formal school career, are banned and not accessible in the school environment (Brooks-Young, 2010). Many students no longer see school as a place for learning, rather a place they are required to go, but it fulfills no real need for them.
4. Linking School Networks To Students At Home
“The final step in the broadband revolution is to link school networks to students at home. For some students this happens already, however for many it doesn’t. And one of the purposes of Labors education tax refund is to encourage parents to invest in computers and internet connections at home because Labor understands that in the 21st century information technology is not just a key subject to learn, it is now the key to learning all subjects (Australianlabor, 2007). Although the intent of the education tax fund is to encourage parents to invest in computers and internet connections at home there is no requirement for them to do so with the monies they receive, so the situation of the haves and have-nots continues. Having said this, many of our students no longer access the internet and learning resources via a landline broadband connection. Rather they are, as previously stated, amongst the majority users of mobile device connectivity. The evidence is overwhelming that mobile learning, also known as mLearning, is beginning to take hold as students can learn whenever they want and wherever they want (Keegan, 2002). mLearning is resulting in learning moving from the classroom, onto your desktop and then into your pocket as handheld devices become the norm due to increasing due to technological breakthroughs (Keegan, 2002).
ONE TO ONE PROGRAMS
Prime Minister Rudd’s Digital Education Revolution umbrellas the National Secondary Schools Computer Fund provide 2.3 billion dollars, the purpose of which is to ensure that a computer to student ratio of one to one will exist in our secondary schools by the end of 2011 (Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, 2010). Many schools throughout Australia have seized this opportunity to go ahead and purchase laptops for their students to use in classes, but most do not go beyond this. This has resulted in the students themselves being frustrated as they are seeking a personal laptop which they can use not only in the classroom to learn but beyond the confinements of the school environment. This is evidenced by the youth population setting up pages in their social networking forums such as the Facebook page “Kevin Rudd Owes Me A Laptop” which is attracting huge support at 50,363 individuals. Our students are mobile learners yearning for a ubiquitous education option, yet we are asking them to contain their interest in learning to occur only between 9am to 3pm Monday to Friday, and that is only during the school term! Keegan (2002, p.48) stated that “the integration of new technologies (e.g. personalization, multimedia, ambient intelligence, haptic interactions, mobile devices) in education and training is basically a culturally driven process with the need to bring about change not only in people, but in the entire learning environment.”
This was eight years ago, and yet we have not yet moved past adding equipment into the same old environment. Ultimately nothing has changed, even if we achieve one to one ratio of computers in classrooms we still have the same old view just with a new pair of glasses. Advocates of one to one computing who engage in replacement exercises believe that educationally beneficial uses of computers will emerge spontaneously from the deployments of laptop computers in ratios of one computer per user (Weston & Bain, 2010), and it would seem that Mr Rudd and his political party hold this belief. For educators and policy makers that wish to invest in these initiatives as a means for improving educational outcomes, there is little empirical evidence upon which to base decisions (Bebell & O’Dwyer, 2010). Laptops can enable mLearning and ubiquitous learning to occur but providing them alone, is not enough to make a significant change to the way our students are being educated.
TRANSFORM, REFORM OR RHETORIC MASQUERADE?
There is a richness and such a considerable variety of choice available to all learners in the 21st century (Keegan, 2002). The challenge to us as educational professionals, is to be able to tap into the array of digital tools and into the diverse ways they can be utilized so that rich and meaningful learning can occur. But what exactly is it that we are striving to achieve, transformational learning, educational reform or just enjoying the ride of being on the merry-go-round of a political rhetoric masquerade? Mr. Rudd is talking about an education reform, and the concern with such an undertaking is that is a forced change with no consultation amongst the stakeholders of the system and because of this it may be met with resistance and long-term change may be unachievable. The risk this approach poses is that unless teachers are not only informed about the potential, but become involved in a hands on exploratory way of investigating these technologies and the way they can extend and enhance learning outcomes, then true change in teaching practices will not occur. Imperative to technologies being a curricular success is the need for teachers to “buy in“ to new methods, including the use of emerging technologies and attainment of knowledge of how to integrate these into instruction (Ray & Coulter, 2010). Many of Australia’s state and territory departments of education have already put in place frameworks of professional development around making information and communication technologies integral to the teachers professional knowledge, views, and practices, yet there is no mandatory requirement for the teachers to engage with these frameworks, and the status quo of teachers not embracing the digital world within which their students live and learn continues. Ray & Coulter (2010) supports this stating that currently, teachers as a collective, do not see the potential for technologies to aid in the development of new knowledge, active engagement and linkage of knowledge to a real-world setting.
Schools and classrooms, both real and virtual, must have teachers who are equipped with technology resources and skills and who can effectively teach the necessary subject matter content while incorporating technology concepts and skills (United Nations, 2008). For this to become a reality in our schools and classrooms nationwide we need a collective professional change, and this will only transpire when transformational learning amongst all education professionals is occurring. As it presently stands, teachers do not see the potential for the development of new knowledge, active engagement, and linkage of knowledge to a real-world setting through the use of digital technologies (Ray & Coulter 2010). There is a ray of light at the end of this tunnel as Littlejohn, Margaryan & Vojt (2010) discovered in their study of pre-service teachers found that when it came to learning technologies that would help them teach in the future, 100% participants reported interest or strong interest. This is why transformational learning is so important as it would enable our teachers to move from the limited knowledge of knowing what they know without questioning to being able to identify, assess and evaluate new information, and in some cases, reframe their world-view through the incorporation of new knowledge or information into their world-view or belief system (Wallace, n.d.). Once pedagogical beliefs have been challenged, considered and new ways of thinking have been accomplished amongst our teachers than true transformation of the Australian education system has a whole can come to fruition and genuine improvement in student outcomes will be achieved.
CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS
There has been many governmental reports and initiatives, at both a federal and state level that has highlighted the need for change and improvement in relation to digital technologies in education within Australia (Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority, 2010; Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, 2010; Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs, 2008; Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs, 2010; Queensland Government Department of Education and Training, 2010a) yet our schools and learning outcomes have not improved significantly in recent history. There is no doubt that the Digital Education Revolution once completely rolled out will improve the digital resources available for each school and student nationwide, and that the intent of ensuring that all education professionals in Australia are skilled up to support this roll out is well-meaning. This coupled with the new national curriculum (Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority, 2010) which has information communication technology general capabilities embedded throughout the document, as per suggested by the Melbourne Declaration (Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs, 2008), and the draft National Professional Standards for Teachers (Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs, 2010) which acknowledges teachers should hold this knowledge but no where is it stated that teachers are required to be trained in the use of information communication technologies and being proficient in doing so.
However, without 100% participation and willingness to re-consider their beliefs and practices, teachers and administrators will never be able to employ these digital tools to their full potential within teaching and learning environments (Keegan, 2002; Clark, Alchediak & Rabinowitz, 2005; Ray & Coulter, 2010). The Digital Education Revolution platform at its basic level is an attempt for the Australian government to play catch up with technology in education, but unfortunately our students are already miles ahead of the politics and the policies which are just coming into play. Keegan (2002) eight years ago, stated that “of particular importance in the development of a new technological sector of education and training is student usage and acceptance of the new learning environments. However if we are hoping to “reform” our learning environments through the Digital Education Revolution platform, then we may have already missed our opportunity to bring our education system into digital world of today and to ensure our students are engaging with schools to be better equipped to deal with the digital landscape of tomorrow. Our students are already accessing information and training outside of classrooms, which holds more personal significance and meaning to them, through the use of mobile devices, which allows them to tap into the collective knowledge of the greater world beyond the walls of our schools. They are ubiquitous learners living in the digital economy of today, and they are desperate for our schools and more importantly the teachers, to embrace this digital evolution and begin to walk alongside them in the journey of global change in the way education for each individual is put into practice.
- Further research is needed in the following areas:
- How well prepared teachers really are to implement digital technologies into their daily practices in an Australian context
- The percentage of teachers actively engaging in the existing digital pedagogical professional development frameworks available within their state/territory employing body.
- A comparison between teachers that are making digital technologies integral to their daily practices and teachers that have little or no digital technologies embedded in their daily practices and the difference in impact on students learning outcomes, if any.
- Federal and state education departments to change their policies and procedures relating to personal digital devices being brought to school. Schools and teachers must be encouraged to allow students to utilize these tools at school to make it possible to implement one-to-one computing initiatives in every school. This would require teachers and administrators to be more vigilant in scaffolding and educating the appropriate use of these tools for learning with students.
- Schools to put in place an “On Loan” agreement in relation to mobile technologies such as laptops to allow students who do not have access to a computer at home so they can use them not only in the classroom to learn but beyond the confinements of the school environment.
- State and territory departments of education to make it a mandatory requirement for employment that teachers are to engage within digital pedagogy professional development frameworks and for this to be linked to teacher registration to ensure currency of knowledge, skills and practices.
- Undergraduate education programs to actively expose preservice teachers to a variety of technologies that can be used to support different teaching and learning activities, emphasize subject-specific technology, include assistive technology as an important component of teacher technology preparation programs, help pre-service teachers understand the enabling conditions for technology use, and help preservice teachers make meaningful connections between technology and teaching (Littlejohn, Margaryan & Vojt 2010).
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