There is quite the debate (worldwide) on the affordances of using new media in schools to enhance student learning. Some researchers argue that it provides students with the opportunity for individualising context and better situates the learner in making meaning between formal and informal environments. Others argue that it is a distraction from the learning process and that student learning outcomes are more superior using traditional ‘pen and paper’ methods. This post will investigate contemporary views on the use of new media in the context of the changing nature of digital device use in public schools in Australia.
Heralded as a real game changer in education was the promise by the Australian Labor Party to provide a computer to every student in years 9 -12. This commitment was announced as a major election promise in 2007 and termed the Digital Education Revolution (DER) (Arthur, 2013). It obviously worked given that Kevin Rudd was duly elected and promptly set about delivering on his promise; over $2.1 billion was invested through the National Secondary School Computer Fund by early 2012 (Arthur, 2013). The Australian National Audit Office (2011) reported
The objective of the DER program is to contribute sustainable and meaningful change to teaching and learning in Australian schools that will prepare students for further education, training and to live and work in a digital world.
So what happened then? Nothing!
Many educators think that the DER was nothing more than a political spin. To provide one computer per student from years 9-12 for a period of four years and then nothing could suggest exactly that! Moore (2013) believes that we have reached a “stage where the contradictions in government education policy in Australia are leaving satirists with very little to parody.” He states disbelief and anger in having to stand in front of a room full of students and parents to report that there is no future direction for sustaining or improving technology in education; he argues that “many critics of the laptop rollout do not understand the DER…was the greatest equity policy in the last 20 years in education.” Another educator reports in his blog post The Digital Education Real Illusion (Parallel Divergence, 2011) that this lack of “ubiquitous connections and access” will result in teachers reverting to more traditional methods of “chalk-and-talk” and refers to the DER as “one big education-tease.” A number of researchers also offer conflicting viewpoints.
Rudd’s Toolbox by Parallel Divergence permission granted by creator
So what are the researchers saying about it?
New media is potentially one of the most popular forms of culture consumed by youth today. A Common Sense Media Research Study (2012) reveals that 90% of all 13-17 year olds in the United States have used some form of social media (Figure 1). Cook et al (2011, p.181) argue that learning in the school context needs to be cognisant of the user-generated context that is created when youth engage with new media. Everyday life for young people involves developing and learning from these “new cultural resources” and schools have a responsibility to embrace this new cultural ecology and provide students with opportunities to be more generative and participatory in their learning. Derby (2011, p.100) agrees that technology provides a more engaging learning experience in education however, its success is dependent on how it is used to enhance performance; the use of technology in the classroom must “not impinge in any way on the central activity of learning.” Other researchers and educators suggest that the use of technology in schools does not improve learning outcomes.
Figure 1 Use of Social and Digital Communications by United States Youth
Use of Social and Digital Communications by Common Sense Media permission granted by creator
A number of educators believe that computers should be banned in classrooms. Rockmore (2014) reveals an experience he encountered at a tertiary institution whereby a colleague of his emailed the faculty questioning whether to “ban computers in the classroom?” He reports that his colleague’s proposal was based on the fact that his students were engaged with technology, but either online shopping or using social media. Rockmore (2014) suggests that a wealth of studies have been undertaken looking at the use of computers in the classroom and proposes that The Laptop and the Lecture: The Effects of Multitasking in Learning Environments by Cornell University in 2003 found that “multitasking degrades task performance.” He also proposes other studies that have found students who used pen and paper to note-take had superior knowledge recall over those that typed.
This thinking is echoed by Pandel (2015) in her piece on Measuring the success of the Rudd government’s Digital Education Revolution. Pandel (2015) draws on the findings of a recent publication by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development titled Students, Computers and Learning: Making Connections which she proposes is “the first report of its kind into the digital skills of students.” She suggests that despite the investment in the DER there were no noticeable improvements in reading, mathematics or science for Australian students; there were also minimum changes for any country that had invested heavily in technology use for education (Pandel, 2015).
So what does this all mean for the future of technology in Australian schools?
It appears the most common approach being implemented by schools in Australia is Bring Your Own Device (BYOD/BYOx). Schools are approaching this in two ways, either with or without network access. My school will be implementing BYOx in 2016 and students will have access to the network. That said, this poses a major challenge for the classroom where we will experience students working on a range of different devices and platforms and of course many who won’t even have one. In my opinion this change is the antithesis of equity and can I suggest will do very little in helping students from lower socio-economic circumstances find common ground amongst their advantaged peers. Of course there’s also the argument as to whether this ‘new’ approach will even come close to preparing students for further education, training, and living and working in a digital world. Does this change contribute to a meaningful, sustainable change to learning and teaching in Australian schools?
Arthur, E. (2013). Digital Education Revolution – Did It Work? Education Technology. Retrieved from http://educationtechnologysolutions.com.au/2013/05/27/digital-education-revolution-did-it-work/
Common Sense Media. (2012). Social Media, Social Life: How Teens View Their Digital Lives. Retrieved from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/research/social-media-social-life-how-teens-view-their-digital-lives/key-finding-1%3A-teens-are-avid%2C-daily-users-of-social-media
Cook, J., Pachler, N. And Bachmair, B. (2011). Ubiquitous Mobility with Mobile Phones: a cultural ecology for mobile learning. E-Learning and Digital Media. 8, 181-195. Retrieved from http://ldm.sagepub.com/content/8/3/181.abstract
Derby, B. (2011). Creativity in my pocket: No ‘i’ puns here. English in Australia, 46, 98-100. Retrieved from http://search.informit.com.au/documentSummary;res=IELHSS;dn=123358511934294
Moore, D. (2013). The end of the ‘Digital Education Revolution’. Retrieved from http://www.darcymoore.net/2013/02/06/the-end-of-the-digital-education-revolution/
Pandel, H. (2015). Measuring the success of the Rudd government’s Digital Education Revolution. Retrieved from http://freedomwatch.ipa.org.au/2015/09/measuring-the-success-of-the-rudd-governments-digital-education-revolution/
Parallel Divergence. (2011). The Digital Read Illusion. Retrieved from http://paralleldivergence.com/2011/07/18/digital-education-real-illusion/
Rockmore, D. (2014). The Case For Banning Laptops In The Classroom. Retrieved from http://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/the-case-for-banning-laptops-in-the-classroom