e-Learning and implications for New Zealand schools: a literature review
This e-Learning literature review examined texts across a range of countries, but within a relatively short time frame of the preceding five years. A range of criteria were used to select or eliminate studies for closer review (see Methodology and Methods section). Some key terms are defined for the purpose of this review: outcomes, e-Learning, tools, affordances, Web 2.0.
Author(s): Noeline Wright
Date Published: July 2010
Nature of the evidence
Over 250 articles were examined in relation to this review. Over half (approximately 130) were rejected for not fitting one or more of the priorities noted earlier. For example, many were rejected because of their focus on tertiary e-Learning, or because they did not link to at least one of the potential definitions of outcomes. As well as these articles, 25 international and national reports were examined for this review, and approximately 40 New Zealand and other theses. Over 300 items (theses, reports, articles, and artefacts such as conference videos or other forms of presentations) in total were examined for this review. The reference list for this review is therefore a subset of the total sources scanned using the criteria for the search outlined earlier.
The sections that follow next broadly scope international and national evidence. Keeping these distinctions however, is relatively arbitrary and comparisons across these two areas are made at various points to highlight key ideas and linkages.
International studies featured the following:
- There is an international doxa about e-Learning’s inherent benefits to learners. It masks a relatively small amount of actual evidence about its relationship to improved educational and life chances for students.
- The provision of a tool per se isn’t enough for it to be good for learning, if people don’t know what it’s for or how to use it. Perhaps this suggests what teachers need in order to engage in understanding how to get the best out of e-Learning tools: time, space, place, opportunity, and intellectual energy. However, the provision of e-Learning tools can precipitate more dynamic and effective learning and more positive learning environments (OECD, 2005).
- There is a trend emerging in the literature about the importance of teachers’ active presence and roles in classrooms using e-Learning tools.
- e-Learning tools can motivate and engage students and have a positive impact on a learning environment. These may be critical factors leading to improved educational outcomes. When teachers see the positive effects on students’ engagement and concentration when e-Learning is integrated into learning, they tend to want to repeat such opportunities.
Reports emanating from Australia, Great Britain, Canada, USA, Singapore and Scandinavian countries such as Norway and Finland were searched in order to understand the policy contexts around e-Learning and ICT. Most reports which flag national policies about e-Learning also link it to educational outcomes, and assert that e-Learning is beneficial, but can, Bourdieu terms, be understood as doxa (Grenfell, 2007). Doxa is a term which refers to that which is considered to be a given; something that needs no explaining, but which may be perceived as fact, when it is not. This international doxa about e-Learning’s inherent benefits to learners masks a relatively small amount of actual evidence about its relationship to improved educational and life chances for students. While ‘outcomes’ is a term referred to consistently in governmental policy documents vis a vis learning, what it practically means is not always clear.
The aspirational nature of these policy documents often foregrounds the importance of teachers embracing such technologies because of their asserted benefits for learners. For instance, the British organisation ESRC’s Teaching and Learning Research Programme outlined some key findings in a classroom-focused inquiry. This included a survey of 250 teachers across the primary and secondary sectors and an audit of schools’ IT structures. The report explaining how IT networks supported change “confounded expectations” because the report found that “while IT is now a well-established element of classroom practice, teachers made little use of electronic networks to develop their own professional practice, even when they were part of networks designed to help them do so” (James, 2006, p. 3). One implication of this is that provision of the tool isn’t enough, if people don’t know what it’s for or how to use it. Perhaps this also hints at what teachers need in order to engage in understanding how to get the best out of such networks: time, spaces, places, opportunity, and intellectual energy.
The role of the teacher is also addressed in another research brief report in the same series which noted that, “ICT can help learners to engage with lesson content and influence the course of lessons, but not always in the way intended”. The implication was that “teachers should be aware of the need to intervene during ICT tasks so that pupils achieve learning” (Kennewell, 2008, p. 1). This points to a trend emerging in the literature about teachers’ active presence and roles in the classroom. This is reinforced in the New Zealand government’s e-Learning Action Plan, (addressed in the next section) and reflects the importance of teachers’ pedagogical practices in e-Learning classrooms.
The BECTA final report into the use of ICT in schools and its effect on teaching and learning in UK schools found that as technology became embedded into the natural flow of schooling, schools’ national test outcomes “improved beyond expectations” (Somekh, et al., 2007, p. 6). The longitudinal study over five years aimed to examine the extent to which high levels of ICT resources could enable 28 schools and 3 further education institutions to “change the life chances of children and young people in areas of socio-economic disadvantage” (p. 3). The funding was such that these educational institutions could access both hardware and software resources, as well as professional development, training support and classroom release for teachers. The evidence gathered for the final report was both quantitative (benchmarking changes in national test data; modeling of e-maturity to track institutional change over 4 years; annual teacher, student and parent surveys), qualitative (site visits to classrooms, interviews with stakeholders, document analysis) and action research data (over 90 teachers and others completed 116 action research studies of their ICT trials).
Key findings of this final report concluded that gains were greater for primary-aged students, and that the use of ICT tools regularly improved the quality of interactions between teachers and students, leading to greater learner-initiated choices. Other aspects, such as electronic registration “improved attendance in some schools” by up to four percent and “to enable learners to get the maximum learning benefit from using the internet, internet protocols that safeguarded learners’ welfare without being overly prohibitive were required” (p. 5). Graphs in the report plotted the comparison of performance in Key Stage 2 English, demonstrating both the wide gap in the starting point of the students in these 28 schools in 2002 compared with the national averages, and the dramatic improvement in their achievement rates by 2006.
Through more personalised learning (ie such as working in smaller groups, and identifying individual learning goals), students grappled with content and concepts in classrooms primarily focused on their needs (Somekh et al., 2007). Perhaps this was as important for the learners’ improvements as the availability of new technological tools. The ability to develop and consistently feature learner-centred pedagogical practices is seen as significant in maintaining both student motivation and effective classroom relationships, particularly in New Zealand classrooms and with Maori students (Bishop & Berryman, 2006).
The point about the embedding of technological tools into the natural flow of schooling is important. It iterates the need to integrate, authenticate and develop purposeful learning, which is the role of the teacher. The PISA report into the readiness of students to fully take advantage of a technology rich world (OECD, 2005) noted that
"An effective use of ICT in schools can have an immediate positive impact on schools’ learning environments, for example by: creating more dynamic interaction between students and teachers, increasing collaboration and teamwork in problem-solving activities, stimulating creativity in both students and teachers, and helping students to control and monitor their own learning." (OECD, 2005, p. 9)
It is clear then, that these conditions need effective pedagogical actions to translate these opportunities into actual learning outcomes. There are differences, however, in primary and secondary school results when using such tools. In terms of these differing results, the BECTA report alluded to earlier (Somekh et al., 2007), suggested that one relevant factor is the ability of primary classrooms to flexibly respond to students’ engagement in integrated project work across the curriculum. In such cases, timetables are more flexible, allowing for greater time to be spent on specific tasks, so that students do not need to respond to timetable period bells. This finding echoes the PISA findings outlined in the quote above. The BECTA report also noted that students in classrooms containing technologies such as IWBs and other capture/display tools (digital cameras, for instance) could more easily ‘see’ or visualize material that was otherwise relatively abstract or difficult to access in other formats. Video formats were especially useful for students with disabilities. For example, their learning behaviours could be filmed for their own critique as means for improvement. The same technologies were useful for developing a broader range of students’ acting and other performance-type capabilities, as well as recording field trips, science experiments, or sports movements. In other words, this BECTA report noted a wide range of positive outcomes when ICT use was embedded into the fabric of a school’s learning opportunities. These outcomes reflect the learning environment conditions ICT/e-Learning tools can promote, as noted in the OECD (2005) report.
As indicated earlier, there are some issues with the rhetoric and the reality regarding e-Learning and outcomes. While there is growing evidence of a positive influence of using interactive whiteboards (IWBs) in classrooms on teachers’ pedagogies in UK research (Johna & Sutherland, 2005; Kent & Holdway, 2009; Lee, 2003; Lewin, Somekh, & Steadman, 2008; Reisz, 2009; Somekh, 2007), and evidence of a relationship between regular ICT use (especially of digital media tools) and improved literacy and numeracy (Kent & Holdway, 2009; Lee, 2004), the influence of contextual factors, which are often glossed over in reports of digital tool use, cannot be discounted. Key factors are the pedagogical practices of teachers and their deliberate acts of teaching. If teachers do not actively teach students how to use technological tools educatively for authentic learning purposes, very little will change for learners (Lee, 2003). Contextual factors include the:
- knowledge and confidence of the teachers,
- ready access students and teachers have to ICT tools,
- prevailing pedagogical thinking in the school,
- leadership and technical support available,
- social cohesion of the classroom, and
- the extent to which students have an audience for their work (Bennett & Lockyer, 2008; Kent, 2004).
The points about audience and the prevailing pedagogical thinking in a school are reflected in the example of the podcasting and television productions from New Zealand’s Pt England School, which demonstrate the power of both an authentic audience for students’ work, and a prevailing ethos in the school about the social and pedagogical frameworks important to learning. These factors are captured in an e-Learning fellow’s investigation in this school (Burt, 2007).
It is important to note that most sources already cited in this section (except for Johna and Sutherland’s study as outlined earlier), took place in primary school settings. This may suggest areas of further investigation into what the impediments may be for uptake in secondary school settings.
A meta-analysis of online learning (Means, Toyama, Murphy, Bakia, & Jones, 2009) conducted for the US Department of Education focused on studies which used ‘controlled design (experimental/quasi-experimental design)’ (p. 11) processes that also reported data on ‘student achievement or another learning outcome’ (p. 11). These learning outcomes had to be measured for ‘treatment and control groups’ and be ‘objective and direct’ (p. 12). Such measures included standardised tests or specific assessments related to learning outcomes. The effect sizes they wanted to examine related to contrasting f2f with online learning or blended learning, and they only counted studies that “provided enough data to compute an effect size” (p. 14). This meant they ended up with “51 independent effect sizes… abstracted from the study corpus of 46 studies” (p. 17). However, only 9 of the 176 studies related to the compulsory school sector (K-12), and it wasn’t clear how many of these ended up in the final 46 studies. Many of the studies appeared to relate to the health or tertiary learning sectors (see table of meta-analysis pp. 21-26), and tested specific, definable outcomes. In the end, this meta-analysis, focused as it was on comparisons between different types of online/blended learning, concluded two things of interest for the compulsory school sector. Firstly, that
"Studies in which the online learners worked with digital resources with little or no teacher guidance were coded here as “independent/active,” and this category was the one learner experience category for which the advantage of online learning failed to attain statistical significance at the p < .05 level or better (p. 53)."
"Educators making decisions about online learning need rigorous research examining the effectiveness of online learning for different types of students and subject matter as well as studies of the relative effectiveness of different online learning practices (Means et al., 2009, p. 54)."
The strong focus on empirical studies in this meta-analysis in the end precluded studies that otherwise might have informed the use of e-Learning in the K-12 sector. Finally, this meta-analysis showed that the actions of teachers in facilitating learning were crucial to learning outcomes, particularly when they concluded that “distance learning outcomes were less positive when instructor involvement was low… with effects becoming more positive as instructor involvement … increased” (p. 53).
In terms of specific studies related to e-Learning tools, research literature has been dominated by work on interactive whiteboards (IWBs) in classrooms (Kent, 2004; Lewin et al., 2008; Somekh et al., 2007; Van Dusen, 2009), although it seems likely that tracking the educational uses of Web 2.0 affordances, mobiles and gaming will take over (Alexander, 2008; de Almeida Soares, 2008; Annetta, Minogue, Holmes, & Cheng, 2009; Assogba & Donath, 2009; Boling, Castek, Zawilinski, Barton, & Nierlich, 2008; Borau, Ullrich, Feng, & Shen, 2009; Cadogan, 2009; Chettle, 2009; Clyde, 2005; Corbett, Mace, & Regehr, n.d.; Cosh, Burns, & Daniel, 2008; Cristina, n.d.). Perhaps the focus on IWBs has occurred because they are easily observable in classrooms, or, because they are relatively expensive. IWBs are as frequently written about as computers, although there is a developing body of evidence of trials using tools such as iPods/iPhones (Learn 4 Life, 2009), and gaming technologies for learning (Annetta et al., 2009; Assogba & Donath, 2009; Blignaut & Nagel, 2009; Bonk, 2009; Burke & Rowsell, 2008; Burkett, 2008; Chen, Tan, Looi, Zhang, & Seow, 2008; Dale & Pymm, 2009).
One longitudinal study (Reisz, 2009) on the relationship between IWBs and learning concluded that IWBs were an ideal resource for those students whose motor skills prevent them from handwriting easily. The authors argued that for “those students whose attainment scores progressed over the two years” of the study (implying that not all students’ scores progressed), the key factor was the skilled teaching of concepts and numeracy and literacy skills to small groups of students, mediated by the IWB. Here, students were able to use the drag and drop functions of the technology to quickly become familiar with new learning, rather than be hampered with poor motor skills and handwriting. At the same time, when teachers used the IWB regularly and deliberately, they greatly increased both the quality and the number of interactions with students. And, as IWBs became embedded in these teachers’ practices, changes were documented. The authors noted that small group interactions with the IWB over extended periods of time, were most valuable to students’ learning in these primary classrooms.
On the other hand, providing such extended periods of time to students may present an interesting challenge for secondary school teachers, as might centring attention on small groups for extended periods. The italicised words and phrases in the previous paragraph are key; they indicate some of the features considered important to the success of the reported studies, but which may be difficult in secondary school settings which are affected by school-wide timetables.
There is a noticeable prevalence in international studies on specific kinds of technological tools or hardware (for example, IWBs) rather than Web 2.0 tools currently used by many in social ways, such as Facebook and YouTube, or collaborative tools such as wikis blogs and cloud tools like GoogleDocs. On the other hand, there is a growing literature on, and experimentation with, mobile devices and their role in learning (for example, Hartnell-Young & Vetere, 2008; Keller, 2008; Nicholas & Ng, 2009; Rogers & Price, 2008; Spikol & Milrad, 2008).
Hartnell-Young and Vetere (2008) for example, examined the effects of mobiles in supporting the personalised learning of Aboriginal students in Australia’s Northern Territories. They concluded that the mobiles helped students bring their cultural knowledge into the classroom, and noted the importance of teachers’ actions in supporting this. Perhaps it also indicates changes in these teachers’ pedagogies as they focused on the leverage the mobiles afforded their students’ learning. It potentially also illustrates the desire of most teachers to hook into and use what motivates students to learn.
The SITES 2006 conference publication (Law, Pelgrum, & Plomp, 2008) outlined studies conducted in 22 countries. Conclusions from these studies suggested that:
- Computer access is a “necessary but not sufficient condition for ICT-use in learning and teaching” (Law, 2008, p. 275)
- Increasing access to computers per se doesn’t bring about better learning experiences
- The way teachers create opportunities for learning with ICT matters.
- ICT adoption per se, doesn’t bring about changes to teachers’ pedagogical orientations; this needs to be deliberately fostered
- The impact on learners is “highly dependent” on the “pedagogical orientation” that teachers adopt vis a vis e-Learning (Law, 2008, p. 275).
- “Analyses of the data revealed correlations between lifelong-learning-oriented pedagogical uses of ICT in teaching and learning and perceived gains in students’ 21st century outcomes. No significant correlations were found between traditionally oriented uses of ICT and students’ learning outcomes, as reported by their teachers” (Law, 2008, p. 275).
These point to key messages emerging in other studies related to e-Learning: that teachers’ pedagogical purposes and intentions while embedding any ICT in lessons is a critical factor in students’ learning. As Alton-Lee’s (2003) BES observed, motivation and engagement are necessary but not sufficient factors in academic achievement, they do however, link to a purposeful learning orientation. Access to ICT tools is important in a learning environment. But by themselves they are not sufficient: pedagogically wise use of ICT tools is critical if effective learning is to occur.
Keller (2008) considered how mobile technologies contributed to learning motivation, resonating with Hartnell-Young and Vetere’s (2008) findings. Rogers and Price (2008) observed how mobile devices could support collaborative inquiry in classrooms. Together, these studies suggest that these devices have the potential to enhance pedagogies embracing co-constructive and socially oriented practices (Twiss, 2008) along with critical thinking. These point to Key Competencies as outlined in The New Zealand Curriculum (NZC), especially regarding the necessary social competencies of ‘relating to others’, ‘participating and contributing’ and ‘managing self’. Furthermore, if we consider the focus on culture that Hartnell-Young and Vetere (2008) commented on in their study with Aboriginal students, then language, symbols and texts (as noted in the NZC) were an integral part of how these students brought their own knowledge to school and used it meaningfully. These ideas hint at key attributes associated with e-Learning affordances: motivation and engagement. These are two of the broad outcomes which appear to not only link to improving students’ academic achievement over time, but also support lifelong learning attitudes. These factors are iterated in the PISA findings (OECD, 2005).
The importance of authentic audiences for learning was the subject of Nicholas and Ng’s (2009) work. They reported on the value of Internet technologies to extend the capabilities of a group of gifted learners attending a four-day ‘Sun, Science and Society’ camp. The study investigated the extent to which online technologies (an online management system, e-mail, and Web-based resources) supported further learning for these students 6 months beyond the camp. This virtual community consisted of like-minded students and familiar facilitators. Nicholas and Ng discovered that the students’ engagement and motivation (key elements of the NZC Key Competency ‘managing self’) was highly variable. This, they surmised, related to the students’ perceptions of a viable audience who would share and critique ideas. An additional point to consider might relate to the degree to which the virtual community was facilitated through good pedagogical practices.
The notion of audience is significant, since it points to an underlying learning motivation for students, and suggests that e-Learning affordances may make finding and keeping authentic audiences much easier than it has ever been. Pt England School’s students and staff have already discovered the benefits of authentic audiences through their regular podcasts to the world through KPETV (Burt, 2007).
In terms of examining Web 2.0 tools, social networking and blogging have been examined as follows. In 2008, Luehmann reviewed the way teachers used blogs to develop their professional identities, while Luckin, Clark, Graber, Logan, Mee and Oliver surveyed 27 UK schools’ students’ use of Web 2.0 activities. They concluded that while there was prolific use of these tools, the patterns of use led the researchers to categorise four types of behaviours:
- Researchers: reading, but little critical enquiry or analytical awareness of these texts
- Collaborators: these shared files, used Web 2.0 for gaming and communicating
- Producers: constructed artifacts using ICT tools (including mashing and modding), and usually published
- Publishers: shared their experiences or artifacts through social networking sites.
Essentially, the authors concluded that while many students used these Web 2.0 tools in some way, few used them critically or metacognitively, thus they argued that these higher order thinking processes needed to be deliberately nurtured by teachers so they could be used to their fullest extent.
Grant (2009) used a case study method to examine the use of a wiki in a secondary school. This study identified tensions between collaborative and learner-driven learning with students’ views of learning; some may resist collaborative processes. Grant argued that a teacher’s educative purposes and facilitation are key to the successful use of such processes and tools. These ideas resonate with Mark Callagher’s use of GoogleDocs in a New Zealand senior history class, where, tracked in his blog, he makes explicit the kinds of thinking he’s aiming for, exemplifying both sound pedagogical practices, and some of the potential of Web 2.0 tools (see High School e-Learning at http://markcallagher.com/).
Social networking sites were the area of interest for Greenhow and Robelia (2009) who explored the role such sites might have in developing 21st century technological fluency and becoming contexts for learning. They focused attention on poor students’ use of these spaces, which they found became places for developing their identities and engaging with 21st century skills. They also found that these same students did not necessarily make any connection between these activities and classroom learning. This suggests the importance of teachers showing students how to successfully use these tools educationally. Selwyn’s (2009) critique of university students’ educationally-linked uses of sites such as Facebook and MySpace concluded that they tended to critique learning experiences, share the logistics of tasks and assessment requirements, and provide emotional support. So, while these uses are not necessarily about improving content or conceptual knowledge, these sites are a means by which students can connect about the identity issues related to being students together. They can thus be seen as a partial steam vent, and a way to articulate feelings and responses to learning contexts and experiences.
The current body of international evidence suggests that learning can be enhanced by judicious use of various technologies in conjunction with pedagogical practices that engage students in problem-solving and co-operative, active learning. Technology-rich learning environments can positively affect students’ engagement with learning (OECD, 2005). Relevant pedagogies will be explored later in this review. New Zealand evidence as found in articles and theses is attended to next.
- Many young people are technologically literate regarding social networking and using mobile technologies as everyday tools, but they may still be neophytes when it comes to understanding how to use them in purposeful and educationally oriented ways.
- Learning in an e-Learning-rich environment may make peer and collaborative learning opportunities easier, thus supporting students’ cognitive, affective and social interactions. These ways of learning also appear to suit many New Zealand students, especially Maori and Pasifika (Ako Aotearoa, 2008; Franken, May, & McComish, 2005). These ways of working may lead to improved educational outcomes.
- The prevalence of e-Learning technologies in some schools as natural ways of working point to ways in which traditional learning (literacy, numeracy) can be achieved in highly motivating ways.
In terms of New Zealand evidence, Ministry of Education and other commissioned reports, plus theses, books and journal articles were searched. Sources were selected that best fitted with both the parameters of the key research questions, and the search criteria noted earlier.
One place to start in examining New Zealand texts is Gilbert’s (2005) work exploring what knowledge creation might mean in the 21st century. She made the point that knowledge can now be found almost anywhere by anyone, and at any time. Now that the Internet is increasingly available through Wifi and on mobile devices, this has never been truer. This ubiquity (ie any time, any place) challenges traditional sources of knowledge, and may be a key to understanding why studies examining e-Learning in classrooms consistently report on how it precipitates changes to teachers practices, and highlights students’ preferred ways of learning. These can change the dynamics in classrooms from situations in which the teacher is the knower and controller of the learning, to situations where students are more in control and have greater responsibility. This may be because students are more comfortable users of technological social networks and affordances than their teachers, and they can access, manipulate and navigate information sources almost at will (given effective and efficient Internet/Wifi connections).
There is a caution however, for while many young people are technologically literate regarding social networking and using mobile technologies as everyday tools, they may still be neophytes when it comes to understanding how to use them in purposeful and educationally oriented ways. So, it is not always true that young people are as digitally native as some theorists would have us think (Prensky, 2001a). They still need the guidance effective pedagogy brings to learning new concepts and content. If the two can be harnessed via enabling technologies (for example, mobiles, gaming principles), then there is the possibility that learning in schools will become truly engaging for 21st century learners from increasingly diverse backgrounds (Alton-Lee, 2003; Ako Aotearoa, 2008; Ministry of Education, 2008). A clear trend in twenty-first century learning is the strength of its collaborative and networked nature. These factors may enhance both the cultural behaviours of Maori and Pasifika students in New Zealand classrooms in particular, and the general social and learning of behaviours of students in general. They may also link to the practices Bishop and Berryman (2006) advocate in supporting effective learning for Maori. In terms of Pasifika students, teachers who cared about individual students and worked to provide learning contexts that supported diversity, were more likely to help Pasifika students succeed (Franken et al., 2005). Technology-rich coupled with co-constructive classroom practices are likely to help in this regard, as the PISA (OECD, 2005) report indicated when it suggested that such classrooms promote increasing collaboration and a more dynamic relationship between students and teachers.
In terms of teachers developing their competence with digital technology, a longitudinal six-year study on the value of laptops for teachers in New Zealand schools concluded that laptops made a difference to teachers’ expertise in ICT (Cowie et al., 2008). Over time, this initiative and the national ICTPD programme led to a gradual incorporation of e-Learning processes and tools into classroom practices beyond administrative convenience (Cowie et al., 2008; Ham, 2008).
A key benefit for teachers with a laptop was its portability – they could use the same piece of hardware at home as well as in the classroom, in meetings, and readily share resources and ideas with colleagues, making them flexible almost mobile technologies. A lasting benefit, according to Cowie et al. (2008), is the streamlining of administration for routine tasks such as report writing, attendance and attainment records, and checking timetables.
Key learning/teaching benefits for those with laptops included the easier access to online resources, quicker preparation and drafting of resources and lessons. Essentially, the Cowie et al. report found that “the increased access to a wide range of information, resources and people had changed the way learning resources were defined” (p. 3). An interesting development when teachers used their laptops in classrooms, was their reporting that students made “gains in understanding and interest” when they used “multi-modal lesson materials” (p. 3). The study’s authors also observed that, “the patterns of interaction in their classrooms had changed with them [ie the teachers] taking a more facilitative role” (Cowie et al., 2008, p. 3).
This finding suggests that teachers with ready access to e-Learning technologies are better positioned to develop more harmonious, focused and student-centred learning environments than they might otherwise, leading to teachers adopting more inclusive pedagogical practices that in the end create better learning environments for students and better relationships with them. Cowie et al. point to some important outcomes both for students and teachers, especially in relation to students’ positive orientations to learning and teachers’ confidence and competence with ICT tools. All of these appear to be preconditions to successful learning and achievement outcomes.
A consistent message in national (and international) reports is the pivotal role of the teacher in supporting learning with or without the aid of e-Learning tools (such as Alton-Lee, 2003; Claro, 2007; Cowie et al., 2008; Ham, 2008; Ministry of Education, 2002, 2006; Somekh et al., 2007; Tearle, 2004). For instance, the e-Learning Action Plan asserts that effective teaching depends on teachers “becoming confident and capable users of ICT and understanding how to integrate ICT effectively into their teaching practice” (Ministry of Education, 2006, p. 10). It goes on to argue that without teachers, it is unlikely that students can achieve “desired” learning outcomes. According to the same report, one way of achieving that aim is through teachers constantly evaluating both the “appropriateness and effectiveness of available technologies and digital resources” (p. 10), and their pedagogical decisions about when and how to use them with students.
The focus on the role of the teacher doesn’t end there. Nussbaum et al., (2009) explored what it took to create collaborative and student-centred classrooms using ICT in classrooms (both primary and secondary) in the UK and Chile over the period of one month. They concluded that a teacher’s ability to scaffold that learning was critical to students developing the skills to engage in effective, “knowledge-building” (Nussbaum et al., 2009, p. 153) group learning discussions using specific ICT tools (both hardware and software). The New Zealand Ministry of Education’s (2006) report suggests that similar student-centred pedagogies are central to embedding ICT tools as natural parts of classrooms, and links to the findings raised in the Cowie et al. report, Falloon’s (2004) doctoral thesis, and other international studies (such as Hayes, 2007; Kim, Park, & Baek, 2009; Lim & Hang, 2003). The evidence is mounting that teachers are critical to good learning, regardless of whether or not e-Learning tools are integral features in these classrooms.
Falloon’s doctoral thesis, for example, explored how primary school students learned in one e-classroom. He concluded that learning in such an environment made peer and collaborative learning opportunities easier, thus supporting students’ cognitive, affective and social interactions. In this classroom, the teacher reported that students appeared to be more focused and engaged in learning than they had been previously. In turn, this helped the teacher facilitate more student-centred approaches, and enhanced her own satisfaction because students appeared to be enjoying their learning.
Engaging in learning is important whether in primary or secondary schools. Bolstad and Gilbert (2006) examined the value of the Tech Angels project in a New Zealand secondary school, where students took on the role of supporting teachers’ and other students’ knowledge of ICT tools. The school leaders’ ultimate aim was to introduce new ideas about teaching and learning with ICT tools to support a shift away from teacher-centred, “old” knowledge-based approaches, to student-centred, “new” knowledge-based approaches. While this project provided authentic ICT learning experiences for the Tech Angel students, teachers did not necessarily make the link between their use of ICT tools and changes to their own pedagogical practices. Even while these teachers observed that it built students’ self-confidence, positive relationships, leadership skills, and problem-solving (skills noted as important in the NZC’s Key Competencies, Values and Principles), they did not see that this was also true of their own development vis a vis the technological tools. The opportunities for learning were there, but not the spaces in which teachers could evaluate what had gone on in terms of their own professional learning. In this Tech Angels project, ICT tools afforded students opportunities to connect with real-world problems in authentic contexts using information, engaging with new concepts, subjects and issues as part of a wider network of learners, and developing leadership skills and expertise at the same time.
There is, as the Bolstad and Gilbert study showed, potential for leadership to develop in the e-Learning arena at many levels in schools; but it needs to be deliberate and involve reflective opportunities at all levels. Forbes (2004) indicated at least three obligations relating to leaders and e-Learning: to emphasise inquiry and research into such learning affordances; to create opportunities for learners; and to invite collaboration with other learning communities in order to foster an inquiry, feedback and improvement cycle. So, even though this study considered e-Learning leadership in a tertiary institution, these same principles are relevant for school staff, in both primary and secondary contexts. This is because in order to improve e-Learning outcomes in schools, effective leadership in e-Learning needs developing in a cohesive and deliberate manner. The NZC focus on teaching as inquiry as being related to effective pedagogy may be of use in this regard (Ministry of Education, 2007, pp. 34-35). Interestingly, Forbes also asserted the value of constructivist learning as being integral to such leadership.
Where e-Learning is discussed, some specific pedagogies are emphasised more than others. This segues into the next section of the review, which discusses pedagogy and e-Learning.
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