Have your say about e-learning

2nd January 2004 at 00:00
The DfES's e-learning strategy is ad hoc and outdated. But, says Leon Cych, teachers still have an opportunity to push it in the right direction

By the time you read this, there will be only a couple of weeks left to reply to the DfES consultation document on e-learning, Towards a Unified e-Learning Strategy. But in many parts of the country the infrastructure to put in place that learning is already up and running, and with ICT strategies at KS1, 2 and 3 also about to be rolled out, it looks like a done deal.

However, there is something missing. E-learning is necessarily about community involvement - it needs people and ideas. In the future we will not see "products" or learning artefacts in isolation.

Instead, everything will be contextualised. In order to know and understand something, to have insight and to apply it, we will need to consider how people come together as a community online and off; their teaching and learning styles; the local context. Consideration of these factors have helped make online learning community Notschool such a success. Together they could be termed the "learning experience".

One main focus of the e-learning consultation process is the question of how public-private models will work. So far it seems that commercial companies are given all the work and have all the responsibility. They design the resource and give it to teachers to test, before taking in a few suggestions and giving it back to teachers as a model.

It is obvious what is missing here - effective pedagogy. Surely, we should start with the teachers. If the companies found and paid those who effectively champion e-learning in the classroom, useful solutions would be developed much more quickly.

What's needed is a proactive talent scout system. But that isn't the way the DfES - a 20th century institution dealing with a 21st century problem and offering a 19th century solution - works. It claims it champions innovation and creative thinking but it doesn't practise it.

My suggestion would be a high visibility, highly targeted ad campaign to support a vehicle similar to the Students' and Teachers' Educational Materials Competition. It should offer a large cash prize and there should be built-in accreditation for innovation. There could also be secondments and video-conferencing to get teachers talking in real time about the issues they find compelling. The possibilities are almost endless.

In e-learning, 19th century research techniques are dodos - we just shouldn't be using them when looking at how to teach new technologies. We need just-in-time research, not a long wait for a paper to be published in a journal or a book, only for it to be ignored.

Why doesn't the DfES make provision for co-opting ICT co-ordinators on to management teams? There should be incentives for this. As good as teachers are at taking on extra work and being intrinsically motivated, there is no reason they will take up such a scheme if they aren't co-opted and included in a compelling way.

If teachers are asked to embed ICT into all areas of the curriculum and then are simply asked to put themselves out yet again by attending a few twilight sessions hurriedly implemented as lip service by their LEAs, e-learning won't get anywhere.

Once the new communications infrastructure becomes ubiquitous, school learning will no longer be the province of the school - that hegemony will be gone once and for all. People will soon find newer and more exciting ways to communicate and learn. Just look at how many people use MSN Messenger at work (whether it benefits their employers or not) - and how many schools block it.

At least researchers at Nestafuturelab are allowed to think the unthinkable. But we need much more of that kind of innovation if we are to move on as a nation. So reply to that consultation now!


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