It happens in virtual learning

16th May 2008 at 01:00
A video has been circulating the internet for two years called Did you know 2.0Shift Happens
A video has been circulating the internet for two years called Did you know 2.0Shift Happens. It's been viewed at least five million times and has been translated into at least four languages (French, Spanish, Japanese and German). The presentation is full of amazing facts. Here are a few:

- if MySpace was a country, it would be the eighth largest in the world;

- in 10 years, the number one English-speaking country in the world will be China;

- today's learners will have 10 to 14 jobs before their 38th birthday;

- more than 70 per cent of American four-year-olds have used a computer.

The video concludes by asking principals how we're helping to make children literate in the 21st century. This is an important point. Are we ready for this incredible explosion of technology and globalisation? How do we truly commit to lifelong learning, and to helping our learners connect to the rest of the world?

The answer, I believe, is in encouraging diverse learning opportunities. Building on what we know, while also allowing ourselves to take risks and try new things. This approach will help guarantee our students get the most beneficial and most meaningful learning experience possible.

Earlier this year, Perth College opened a learning cafe: a joint commercial and academic space where students can grab a coffee while working by themselves or with others on a project. The experiment has just about broken even financially, but the academic value to the learner is immeasurable. The cafe encourages the use of technology (users have access to computers and the wireless network), face-to-face communication and old-fashioned books, journals and newspapers.

Colleges and universities have also found new and exciting ways to enhance their virtual learning environments. Students enter these portals and have instant access to information about their course, and can potentially link to thousands of resources to enhance their learning.

These new technologies are important if we are to keep up with the growing demand for instant information, and they challenge our teaching staff to think of innovative and exciting ways to engage students.

However, for many staff, it's truly new territory: some of the most basic technologies hadn't been invented when they received their initial training. Continuing professional development is vital and, to ensure our staff are trained on cutting-edge learning technologies, we invested in such a centre. Its staff provide support, advice and guidance for those who are interested in making best use of ICT in their learning and teaching.

This strategic approach of aligning our learning and teaching strategy, estates and information technology infrastructure and career development programme has changed the way we look at learning and is vital to the learner's journey.

Providing students with diverse learning opportunities - and ensuring staff can guide them to make the most of these opportunities - helps plant the seed of lifelong learning.

If our students are comfortable with a breadth of learning styles and mediums, and familiar with evaluative communication, they will gain a greater understanding of their own learning, and engender more permanent personal development. This enables us, as educators and principals, to prepare our students and customers for life in the 21st century, thereby truly allowing shift to happen.

View 'Shift Happens' at www.youtube.comwatch?v=pMcfrLYDm2U

Mandy Exley is principal of Perth College.

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