Ross Jardine, Virtual Schooling Service Pilot, Department of Education, Australia.
One of the basic requirements for education in the 21st century is to prepare learners for participation in a networked, knowledge-based economy in which knowledge will be the most critical resource for social and economic development." (Harasim 1997:3)
“Students use of computers and learning about computers should be integrated with other learning activities. Students should develop skills and understandings through using computers for meaningful tasks that are closely related to curriculum goals” (Education Queensland 1995a p. 3)
Business education benefits from the use of computerised information systems design for a flexible, responsive and challenging learning environment. Computerised information systems can help students construct knowledge by supporting teachers in designing, open scalable and flexible learning environments that meets student needs.
Business education and information and communication technologies
Teachers must distance themselves from the politics of computers in learning and look at the wider implications. Business culture has changed dramatically over the past decade. Communications technology has enabled businesses to operate efficiently across the national boundaries. Distance is no longer a barrier to commerce. Previously isolated schools are becoming connected. Networks of norms and trusts between teachers and students need not to be weak. Opportunities for teachers to engage in this new culture must be encouraged. Connected we stand...
“Disconnection is obsolete the new geography is all about connectivity” (Williams 1999:2)
Discussing the changing nature of business Williams (1997) emphasises the growing importance of "e-business". Closer relationships between businesses have been facilitated computer mediated communications. The technologies used are very similar to those Fed Ex use to track parcels.
"This goes far beyond buying and selling over the Internet, or e-commerce, and deep into the processes and culture of an organisation'
The increase in knowledge based industries and the demise of the unskilled worker highlights the importance to schools of their importance in creating citizens that are able to participate in a dynamic and flexible workforce. Micro and Macro economic reform in Australia during the late 1980's and 1990's has caused important structural adjustments in the Australian economy. The solid foundations of the Australian economy are demonstrated by: increased factor mobility: the deregulation of the financial sector: privatisation of government business enterprises: reduction of tariffs, and an increased competitiveness on international markets coupled with continued economic growth despite the Asian financial crisis.
The rapid take up of these new networking technologies has enabled businesses; governments and most importantly, schools to implement new computerised information systems. The intensive use of technology indicates the importance large businesses place on networked information systems - they are mission critical. It also highlights that in a rapidly connecting world students’ education must occur in a similar context where a web-based information system supports core business - the creation of knowledge.
Principles that shape business education on the Internet
The design parameters for an effective web-based information system that supports business education on the internet can be drawn from three simple principles. The principles have been summarised as a checklist and could be used for reflection or review.
1. Delivers Effective Teaching and Learners
- Actively construct knowledge.
- Interactive activities.
- Scaffolding to support construction of knowledge.
- Develops a range on cognitive abilities.
- Are stages in the learning process explicit?
- Provides mechanism for publishing self and peer reflections.
- Provides a simple communication tool for teachers and learners
2. Supportive Learning Environment
- Does the web-based information system provide a structure upon which a "learning community" can be built?
- Does the environment support a range of learning activities?
- Is there evidence of structure environment and is it easy to use?
3. The Social Context
- Can student create informal relationships with peers?
- Can students work collaboratively on projects?
- Do students receive regular and detailed feedback?
- Does the web-based information system provide links or Portals for students to support curricular activities ?
Recent experiences in teaching Senior Economics on the Internet
The Virtual Schooling Service Pilot is located in accessED (formerly Open Access Unit) of EQ. The distinguishing feature of the VSS is that students have a classroom for online lessons (synchronous) in conjunction with access to the study room; a web-based information system, which supports self-managed learning (asynchronous) activities.
The Virtual Schooling Service uses both synchronous and asynchronous technologies. The third party communications software allows voice and data conferencing to be administered, initiated and conducted via a web browser and a phone. Advances in information and communication technologies mean the Virtual Schooling Service has the ability to multicast through the existing network. Systemic initiatives in infrastructure and curriculum teaching and learning activities have enabled delivery of real time virtual lessons to numerous schools in different locations from a single location.
Recent research contained in an Education Queensland (1999) report titled "Application of new technologies to enhance learning outcomes for students" stresses the importance of applying new technologies to enhance learning outcomes for all students. A key finding of this report was that virtual schooling experiences that were self paced in nature and students assessed on "text dump" online are not effective. Internal and external scans suggested that successful experiences use a combination of synchronous and asynchronous information and communication technologies. The major contributors to this success were opportunities for real time interaction between students and teachers. This highlights the importance of a "communities" definition of the Internet. The online community metaphor (Williams S Bowes, 1999) is particularly relevant to this discussion. It supports the move away from defining the Internet as an "information provider" as opposed to a community definition. Spender (1999) advances this by suggesting that information needs to be medium specific "You can't just take pages of text and place them on the screen." Text needs to be minimal and interactive designed so that it allows students to "take every out of context", process information in a non-linear manner, yet still be able to derive meaning.
The web-based information system learning space is a package of components purchased from the Lotus Development Corporation. The package has been designed to provide access to learning programs/courses asynchronously and is being marketed as a "turnkey" solution for delivering web-based training. It comprises a schedule database, a media centre database, course room database, multimedia library database and profiles database. The package provides a sound platform from which to base a course of learning.
The web-based information system supports the teacher creating courses in which students actively construct knowledge by supporting a wide range of materials and by placing few restrictions on how teachers design courses. It has the ability to deliver video, audio, HTML and the MS Office range. For example teachers can create an interactive PowerPoint presentation that is hot linked from a specific learning objective. Furthermore teachers can call on resources from a media centre database and a multimedia library database to support learning activities.
The schedule database provides tools that teachers can use to create course outlines and are organised by week/module. Teachers have the ability to create subsets under these "organizers". Hotlinks can be inserted in documents created in the schedule to the media centre and multimedia library and course room. By using the schedule as a launching point for self-managed learning activities students are exposed to a set process for each activity, furthermore this process is constant thereby reducing the "environmental" burden for new students studying in this medium. Because the schedule is linear it can be difficult to design a heuristic course involving extensive use of inquiry and discovery learning strategies.
Students submit work in the course room database. In this area the work can be labelled: "In Progress", “Request for Review” or “Final Submission”. If students request a review, teachers are provided with extra functions by which they can review students’ work. When working on large tasks students typically follow a linear process of review, revision and submission. The process is quite simple, with the student clicking on an icon where task is situated and the same for a teacher’s review of the work. Because of these tools and components the web-based information system does support a range of learning activities, contributing to a supportive learning environment. However the strict environmental parameters of the web-based information system do little to help foster a learning community. The lack of integrated email, calendars, messaging and chat facilities limit the potential of this database. The "online / synchronous" lessons are essential to any teaching and learning conducted via the Internet. This aspect of the pilot enabled teachers and learners to create the links and form relationships.
In the future the processes of teaching and learning will be unpredictable given the rapid advances computing and communications technology, however some salient factors are emerging. The guidelines developed in this paper provide model for the application of computerised information systems to teaching and learning. It is clear that these guidelines extend beyond issues of technological sophistication. Teachers involved in the equitable integration of technology into curricula must focus in on using technology in the classroom to develop the quality of learning experiences in a supportive environment. Integration of technology facilitates and is facilitated by constructivist learning - a cognitive apprenticeship where learners are enveloped in culture of practice. The web-based information system must focus on the process of learning. This process is enhanced in a culture of practice situated in a social context. Learning and teaching in the 21st century will be an interesting experience.
Virtual Schooling Service Pilot
Department of Education, Australia.
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