Sunday, April 27, 2014

The way education is going

It’s been interesting to be involved with two high schools introducing Bring Your Own Device (BYOD). The program initiated under Kevin Rudd as an enticement for votes, that all public school students are given a laptop in Year 9, has ended. (I’d like to know if all those laptops are now in landfill.) The response from schools is to implement BYOD from year 7. So far, children have been lugging laptops to school and back every day, along with dance gear, sports gear, cooking gear, musical instruments, or whatever else is required for the day’s activities, and barely opening the laptops.

At one school information session a parent asked if the device bought for year 7s will do for their school careers. The answer was ‘no’. They’ll probably need new devices for year 10, but then the students will need to switch to handwriting their notes, so they can be prepared to write their HSC exams by hand. The demonstrations by the teachers were boring and ineffectual. When asked about managing class behaviour a member of the executive said that we can all multitask now. Apparently we can listen and be online at the same time. Other concerns raised by parents were dismissed as family issues that parents just have to manage. I have my reservations about the whole program.

Meanwhile, we hear about children suffering from nature deficit disorder. We probably all could benefit from spending more time outdoors.

I’m currently studying via distance education. There is a world of difference between studying on campus and studying online, so much so that sometimes I think they should be different qualifications. Studying on campus means easy access to lecturers, getting to know them, and them, you. It means talking to peers about what you are learning. It means being able to work together, attending post-grad presentations and being part of academia. Studying online is all about working alone. It means studying in the margins of the rest of your life. You can do a whole course and never speak the words aloud. That’s a much shallower level of processing. It also means that, although in education we are being taught to cater for various learning styles, the value of group work,  and to deliver and assess using a variety of means, in truth we are being taught a very talk and chalk method. We are reading, and sometimes have online lectures to listen to, and we write very proscribed assignments to prove we have read the readings and understand the main points of the course. It isn’t a method that allows for an animated discussion nor much in depth assimilation of information.

It appears the whole idea of education, and the regulations around both schooling and higher education are about the change.

I’m finding it a bit demoralising to be studying education when the next trend is to run schools as businesses. Even though we are implementing the new national curriculum, the government is talking about changes to the curriculum. It is likely that in the coming federal budget the changes to tertiary education will include funding for private providers to allow more competition, increasing student fees, stopping government support for post-grad degrees, and encouragement for Australian universities to offer online courses to the Asian market. It is thought by some that by retaining HECS we will avoid the access and equity problems of the US style university system. Time will tell.

If studying online is the way of the future, perhaps high school students really do need to bring their own devices, despite educational theory. It is yet to be seen how online learning prepares students to work in real workplaces.

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