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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
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Online content for Australian and New Zealand schools: an update

Margery Hornibrook
Margery Hornibrook is Manager, Communications, The Le@rning Federation

As most readers of Curriculum Leadership would know, The Learning Federation is undertaking online curriculum content development designed especially to meet the needs of Australian and New Zealand schools.

The initiative began in 2001 with a Commonwealth Government commitment of $34.1 million over five years, which was met with matching funds by the States and Territories. Subsequently, New Zealand also joined the initiative.

The Learning Federation is essentially a research and development project, undertaking tasks of a kind never previously tackled. The challenge is to produce online content that will support the curriculum in all the participating jurisdictions across six priority curriculum areas:

  • Science (Years P-10)
  • Mathematics and Numeracy (Years P-10)
  • LOTE (Chinese, Indonesian and Japanese)
  • Studies of Australia (Years P-10)
  • Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise (Years P-10)
  • Literacy for students at risk (Years 5-9).
There are no previous models to work with in this task. Although interest in such approaches is growing in Europe, Asia and the United States, there has generally been a concentration on industry training and higher education needs. No other country has made as much progress in developing online curriculum content for schools as Australia and New Zealand. As overseas interest grows, more collaborative work will be possible. Already a school in the ACT and one in Oklahoma are engaged in a trial collaborative project.

The Learning Federation's approach to the task rests on two vital principles.

First, there is no attempt to produce sequenced courseware. Rather, the content takes the form of online learning objects, which are capable of being used in multiple ways and contexts. A learning object can be defined as one or more files that can stand alone as a learning experience. It could take a variety of forms - text, audio, graphic, animation or a combination of any of these - but it needs to contain meaning that will make sense to the learner in itself. However, while learning objects can stand alone, in most cases they can also be made part of a learning sequence. This methodology allows systems or teachers to repurpose objects to suit their diverse pedagogical needs, even to the level of creating individualised sequences to meet the needs of individual students.

To ensure that the range of learning objects produced corresponds to the curriculum needs of education jurisdictions, the development within each priority curriculum area is overseen by a specialised Curriculum Area Reference Group. These groups, including representatives of all stakeholders, determine the parameters of the projects undertaken within the relevant curriculum area. Typically the content development in each area has been divided into three to five individual projects. The reference group also identifies the key curriculum elements, concepts and treatments that the learning objects need to cover. Extensive trialling by expert and user focus groups is also a vital element of the quality assurance process.

Second, the distribution of the content will be carried out by individual education jurisdictions. Each State and Territory, and New Zealand has developed its own implementation plan, providing for a pilot program to be followed by an incremental release of the content to schools.

The first set of learning objects, from the first Science project, were completed in January 2003. By the end of this year, it is expected that content will be released from the Mathematics and Numeracy, Literacy and Studies of Australia curriculum areas.

A challenge for The Learning Federation is to ensure that content users will be able to identify and obtain the online resources they need quickly and easily. Also, given the wide variety of infrastructure and technical operating systems that exist among the various education jurisdictions, it is vital to ensure interoperability. Agreed standards have been a key achievement in ensuring the basis for this.

To meet these needs The Learning Federation has developed The Exchange - the repository and distribution system that will supply online learning objects to the education systems. The Exchange will allow users to sequence the objects, as well as provide a tool for them to locate online content related to particular KLAs, strands and learning outcomes, defined for each Australian State and Territory and for New Zealand.

A very significant benefit of The Learning Federation is the impetus it has given to the development of a high quality, sustainable educational multimedia industry in Australia and New Zealand.

However, the greatest benefit will only unfold over the coming years, as more and more schools and teachers are able to make use of the online resources developed through The Learning Federation. The prospect for extending and enhancing the repertoire of learning and teaching activities represents an outstanding opportunity to produce better student outcomes in the years ahead.

KLA

Subject Headings

Information and Communications Technology (ICT)