One analysis of the Digital Education Revolution

The presentation slides below are the basis for a talk I’ll be giving this Thursday as part of my study toward a Graduate Diploma in Learning and Teaching. The aim is to analyse the Digital Education Revolution (DER) and identify any shortcomings and strengths (hint: I found it heavy on the former and light on the latter). The talk is being done in Elluminate to other students. Don’t know the connection details, but if you wanted to participate I could chase that up. Let me know.

In summary, my conclusion (which is not likely to be all that novel) is that the DER is pleasing in that it represents a fairly significant engagement (in terms of money) by the Federal Government with the question of teaching, learning, schooling and technology. The trouble is, however, that because of various flaws I think it unlikely that the DER will achieve its goal. At best it will remove some of the first order barriers – mostly student access to computers – for the next few years. Though even that will be somewhat limited – depending on how schools implement 1:1 – and is likely to cease in the near future when the DER funding ceases and other factors (tightening budget constrains, potential change of government, likely limited outcomes from the DER) play out.

The biggest problem with the DER is that it is based on the assumption that the coming “digital world” requires new approaches to teaching and learning and it believes this can be done solely by adding technology for students. It seems to assume that the coming “digital world” can be served well by the current industrial model inherent in schools and being reinforced by other Government policies such as the National Curriculum.

Given the huge number of possible perspectives that could be brought to bare on the DER, the presentation is by no means complete. But it is also a bit more complicated than I would like. The trouble is that other assignments are calling and time has run out.


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Some considerations around ICTs for learning in the Senior School: initial thoughts and planning

So, yet another assignment as a pre-service teacher. This one is a 2000 word report on a challenge facing Queensland education. The title of this post is the current title for my report. The following contains the “abstract” we were required to post to the course discussion forum and some initial planning for the broader report. If you have any suggestions fire away.


The Australian Federal Government’s “Digital Education Revolution” intends 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

To achieve this aim, significant amounts of money is being invested in a range of strategies and projects involving millions of dollars. Sadly, encouraging the adoption of ICTs in schools has a long history of little or no impact (Cuban, 2001). This report will seek to highlight a range of considerations that may hinder or enable the Digital Education Revolution.


The position I take to place is that the Digital Education Revolution is important for Australia, and in particular Queensland. It will, however, be incredibly difficult to achieve the aims being set out by government and my sneaking assumption will be that it won’t be achieved. Mainly because there are a significant number of considerations or constraints that will not be factored into what the government and other bodies do.

It is those considerations, or at the very least a number of the interesting ones, that my report will raise. The aim is that by identifying these considerations it might raise awareness and some folk might take steps. Most of these considerations will not be new and I see this report mainly as an opportunity for me to reflect on these a bit more and become familiar with what the Australian government is currently funding.

The report could be on just about any contemporary issue. My choice of ICTs could be seen as the easy option – given my background in information systems and e-learning – and to some extent I agree. But then it is an important issue for secondary education and one that will impact upon me.

The rest of this has some initial ideas for factors to consider and an initial summary of the DER actually entails in terms of money and projects. Both these will need to be expanded. Some follow up tasks I need to complete

  • Skim the course material for any mention of the DER or computers in education.
  • Build up a more complete picture of the DER.
  • Revisit some of the literature I’ve seen about computers in schools.
  • Find what others have written about the DER.

The Ps Framework

Rather than simply generate a list of considerations I am going to use the Ps Framework to structure the list. Yes, it’s my own framework, but then if I don’t use it, no-one else will. It’s proven reasonably useful in the past (Jones, Vallack, and Hood, 2008; Jones, 2008) in terms of understanding the broader implications of e-learning.

What follows is a quick brainstorm of potential considerations and example of how the Ps Framework might be used.

  • Purpose.
    • Mismatch between purpose of DER (Digital Education Revolution) and of the current schooling system.
      i.e. if the DER aims to prepare students for a “digital world”, then it could be argued that the requirements of a digital world are not at all served by the current industralised schooling system (ala Sir Ken Robinson etc.). Opens up the question of what the “digital world” actually means and to whom.
  • Place.
    • Mixed messages in government policies and initiatives.
      e.g. the discrepancy between standardised testing and the “digital world”.
    • Concerns about digital bullying, sexting etc resulting in the need to protect students and that clashing with the idea of how best to prepare students for the digital world.
    • The chance that Australia’s Federal Government could change at the next election in 2 years time to one that is fundamentally against some of the components of the DER (e.g. the NBN). If government did change, this could result in an undermining of any cultural changes within the education sector.
  • People.
    • Examine how the characteristics of the teacher profession might impact upon the DER.
      e.g. it appears that there is a significant proportion of teachers who are near retirement and are not heavy users of ICTs. There is a group of younger students coming through. But many/most teachers remain digital immigrants. What are the characteristics of school leaders?
    • The digital native myth?
      Not all students are digital natives and most aren’t necessarily all that literate members of the “digital world” (perhaps). The very need for the DER to prepare them suggests that you can’t simply assume they can use the technology.
    • Teacher educators and their level of preparation.
      In my very limited experience many of the university academics teaching pre-service teachers aren’t that comfortable with computers. What are the implications of their limited comfort? Does the limited use of technology in teacher training impact new teachers’ use of computers?
    • Government and consultants as digital immigrants.
      The ICT training mapping report mentioned below seems to be a prime example of consultants/advisors talking the “digital revolution” but falling back onto traditional, top-down, controlled approaches to preparing people for it. This strikes me as demonstrating a fairly strong immigrant accent.
  • Pedagogy.
    • What a difference 1-to-1 makes.
      If all students have laptops, especially laptops with broadband connections, that opens up a whole new set of pedagogies. What are the implications of 1-to-1? What are the difficulties that existing schools have had? Do all teachers make the transition?
    • Is there a mismatch between the requirements of pre-service teachers and the capabilities of universities?
      e.g. the following quote from this report

      The evidence presented in this paper strongly points to fundamental systemic flaws in the pre-service teacher education system in Australia in terms of developing teacher competence in embedding ICTs in pedagogy and practice.

  • Past experience.
    • A quick summary of what has happened in the past in connection to the integration of ICTs into secondary education (e.g. the Cuban reference above).
  • Product.
    • Technological fetishism.
      The idea that sexy technology often prevents critical reflection on its appropriateness. e.g. the schools that are leaping toward iPads even though there are some who have significant qualms about an iPads ability to act as a creative tool. Especially in terms of allowing students to program and more generally create with the tool.
    • Information manipulation versus creation/construction.
      Maybe expand a bit on the previous point drawing on Papert’s (half remembered by me) criticism of school-based computing as being focused on information manipulation, rather than creation.
    • Purchase of hardware is the least expensive part.
      Make the point that we’re now living in a time when the initial hardware cost is by far the smallest cost of this sort of large scale project. Not only is their the on-going need to fund upgrades, but more broadly there is the cost of training, support etc.
    • Technology not being neutral.
      e.g. Interactive White Boards (IWBs) tend to maintain the teaching status quo. The teacher up the front, the students listening, maybe with the odd one doing an activity. Is this a good thing? A necessary transition step?
  • Process.
    • Overly teleological.
      As a government funded strategy the DER is going to be overly teleological. i.e. goal driven. The government will allocate money for specific tasks, tasks that will have KPIs that must be met. This will create a range of problems, with the most important being that it offers little scope for responding to new insights generated during implementation.

What is in the DER?

From the DER site

  • $2.4 billion “to support the effective integration of ICTs in Australian schools inline with the Government’s broader education initiatives, including the Australian curriculum”.
    Question: Does that money include funding for the NBN? This page suggests not, but I remain skeptical.

    Though the guide for ICT strategic planning suggests it is $2.2 billion over 6 years

  • $27.2 million NBN-enabled education and skills services program.
    4 year program from July 2011 funding proposals for “innovative online and interactive education and skills services using the NBN.” Mmm, seems to be more double dipping/naming, DER=NBN?
  • The National Secondary School Computer Fund.
    Which aims to have 1:1 computer to student ratio by the end of this year for all students from 9 to 12. With $1000 per computer for purchase and $1500 for installation and maintenance. This is not necessarily laptops. Can be networks, tablets, more desktops etc.
  • The ICT innovation fund.
    $16 million for four projects to help teachers and school leaders use ICT more effectively in the classroom. The four projects are
    1. Teaching Teachers for the Future – led by the ALTC.
    2. ICT in everday learning: Teacher online toolkit – led by Education Services Australia.
    3. Anywhere, anytime teacher professional learning – NSW DoE.
    4. Leading ICT in learning – Principals Australia
  • Apparently there is an “ICT Proficiency Project” being developed.
    It’s part of the broader Digital Strategy for Teachers along with the Innovation Fund. A strategy that has also produced a ICT strategic planning guide for Australian schools (and the teleological emphasis begins) and a national mapping of ICT-based professional learning
    Which I am sad to say, after starting off okay in the overview. Comes up with some very top-down recommendations that seem to demonstrate a lack of understanding of how things work in the online world.
  • And don’t forget the repositories.
    There is a stream of work on Online curriculum resources and digital architecture that

    aims to facilitate sustainable change in the use of learning technologies by supporting schools’ access to and engagement in quality teaching and learning environments through the effective integration of digital teaching and learning resources and infrastructure.

    Which draws on $28.6 million allocated in 2008. There appear to be three key activities

    1. develop high quality resources;
      Again an apparent mismatch between the “ethos” of the “digital world” and the old controlled, centralised production model.
    2. Interoperable systems and digital architectures.
      While interoperability is important, I do wonder why Australian schools (a fairly small player in the digital world) needs to develop their own?
    3. Development of policies, protocols etc to enable schools to safely and seamlessly communicate, collaborate etc.
  • Surveys of school broadband connectivity.
    e.g. the 2010 survey which suggests some on-going discussion about the relationship between school’s existing broadband connections and the brave new world that is the NBN. 63.4% (72% in metropolitan regions) of schools have fibre, 32.8% copper/ADSL. 52.6% have download speeds between 5-20Mbps. Most are with Telstra.


Cuban, L. (2001). Oversold and Underused: Computers in the classroom. Cambridge, USA: Harvard University Press.

How do you increase sharing? Create an interactive website?

I’m in the process of reading up on the Australian Federal Government’s Digital Education Revolution. There appear to be some interesting things going on, but there are also a few things that I’m shaking my head at.

For example, there is this report that maps ICT professional learning which includes range of recommendations, some of which are quite good. For example, Recommendation 2 sounds good

Recommendation 2: Foster transparency: share what works in professional learning for ICT

Helping teachers share what they do and be aware of all the good stuff others are doing is, I believe, an important enabler for improving the quality of ICT use in schools.

But why oh why did they have to recommend this solution?

That funding for school-based ICT professional learning is supported by an interactive website that shares good practice and fosters accountability through transparency of practice.

Why do government reviews, projects and bodies think that creating yet another website is going to encourage sharing? Is there any such website that has actually worked well in a sustainable way? ALTC failed at this approach, didn’t they?

I hesitate to use it, but haven’t they heard of “Web 2.0” and of aggregation. Why are they seeking to replace the individual blogs and websites of teachers for publishing and the use of search engines and social media/networks for finding the really good stuff?

Based on my experience during my first 32 days of prac teaching, the Learning Federation/Scootle sites hosting “learning objects” are used in schools. But my experience using those sites was that using Google to be much more rewarding in terms of the diversity and quality of the learning resources I found for teaching.

I am assuming that the main rationale for this approach is so that accountability can be fostered. i.e. that someone can check the quality of the practices being shared. I find this assumption that someone has to check the quality to somewhat condescending (i.e. it assumes that teachers can’t judge that themselves) and demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of how the new “digital world” works. Which is a bit sad as one of the aims of the DER is to prepare students for participating in the “digital world”.