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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
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Schools Online Curriculum Services: the vision for ICT in education

Deb Newman
Manager Schools Online Curriculum Services, Syllabus Development and Resources Directorate, Department of Education and Training Western Australia. Email: Deb.Newman@det.wa.edu.au

Schools Online Curriculum Services

Western Australia’s public schools are gaining access to a new online teaching and learning system. The Schools Online Curriculum Services (SOCS) program, provided by the Department of Education and Training (DET), offers a content management and search system, a Web portal and curriculum information management applications. The program is part of DET’s vision of the State’s public schools as networked learning communities where Information and Communications Technology (ICT) is integrated into teaching and learning.

The program has been designed, built and evaluated by teams of curriculum and ICT experts. SOCS empowers teachers and students to:

  • communicate and collaborate in an interactive online environment
  • assess students and create personalised teaching and learning programs
  • access relevant syllabus materials and rich digital content through an easily used search engine
  • foster new online communities that share resources, ideas and experiences
  • undertake online professional learning, anytime, anywhere
  • connect students with other students in different classes and school locations to carry out tasks and assignments online.

SOCS implementation commenced with 54 schools in 2007. The program’s full suite of online services will be progressively made available to all 800 Western Australian public schools by 2012.

The SOCS program supports a shift to the centralised provision of ICT systems, services and support. It is a departure from the earlier practice of local, school-based ICT solutions and services that are no longer sustainable due to the complexity of ICT networks and associated costs. The aggregation of buying power through whole-of-system procurement contracts has brought significant savings and efficiencies.

The project is already winning favour with teachers, many of whom have not to date exploited ICT in their work.

The OTLS integrates the teaching and learning framework

The Online Teaching and Learning System (OTLS) is one of the services provided through the SOCS. OTLS provides teachers with an online environment to plan, deliver, monitor and evaluate online and blended learning programs. Teachers are also trained to make effective use of its suite of online teaching and learning tools.

Teachers are given access to proven resources via a central repository of rich digital content, with which to plan learning activities. The OTLS enables teachers to link these activities explicitly to required learning outcomes described in the Western Australian Curriculum Framework. The teacher can then monitor and assess student activity and provide feedback to students in the context of the desired outcome.

OTLS also allows students to participate in self-paced, engaging online learning experiences in a safe and secure environment. Students are able to drill into activities to engage in dialogue with the teacher about the outcome. These capabilities are unavailable in any other enterprise learning management system.

Assessment and reporting is fundamental to any educational system and OTLS has integrated capabilities for aggregating and benchmarking the results of student assessments. The final component, to integrate public reporting on student grades into OTLS, is currently being developed. OTLS provides tools for teachers to effectively monitor the progress of large groups of students and to provide rapid continuous feedback to students.

Reuse of teaching plans and resources is vital to all instructors. The OTLS provides facilities for instructors and teachers to customise existing learning materials, to share them with colleagues or save them into the central repository, attached to metadata required for retrieval or reuse.  Bulletin boards, Web conferencing facilities and news items promulgated via the portal provide additional methods of distributing examples of best practice.

Sustainability of the SOCS project

The sustainability and scalability of SOCS is due, in part, to major investments in ICT infrastructure, policy, professional learning and curriculum resources over the last seven years. These include:

  • a policy for managing online services delivery to students and teachers
  • searchable access to K10 syllabuses and 22,000 endorsed resources including the Learning Federation’s digital learning objects
  • ICT professional learning support for teachers and school leaders
  • an online professional learning system to deliver tracked and managed courses to the entire organisation.

DET Western Australia provides one of the largest ICT organisations in Australia. The network comprises 1,210 network sites with over 86,000 personal computers and over 2,000 servers. DET has procured contracts for hardware, software, networks, high-speed broadband Internet access, integration effort and support services for a centrally hosted and managed, enterprise-wide system.  All server-side components of the SOCS solution are hosted, managed, maintained and backed up by DET’s corporate ICT group to rigorous standards. The transition to a standard, supported operating environment for computer networks is providing a firm foundation for delivery of reliable online services to our schools.

SOCS also builds on the work of MCEETYA’s ICT in Schools Taskforce. From a sound empirical basis, the Taskforce has developed a set of policy statements, collectively titled Learning in an Online World, that provide the blueprint for ICT investment in school education in all Australian jurisdictions.

Evidence of success: local, national and international

A formal independent evaluation of the efficiency and effectiveness of OTLS conducted in 2006 revealed its exciting potential to improve motivation and engagement in learners of all ages. Teachers reported students’ improved attendance at school and higher levels of engagement and motivation. Teachers also reported increased quality and quantity of work output, coupled with students’ desire to keep using these tools for their learning.

Quantitative evaluation data showed that:

  • 74% of teachers believe OTLS activities help students think and learn in different ways
  • 74% of teachers report a positive impact on student participation and improved learning outcomes through improved student engagement
  • 71% of teachers report a positive impact on student behaviour through the use of OTLS.

Students attributed their increased interest and engagement to the connected nature of the system. They felt connected to the Web, to the teacher and to their peers. They valued the ability to access their work from different locations, to monitor their own progress in a visual map format and to work at their own pace.

I liked using the computer to write much better – if I have to write on paper I only write half a page, but with OTLS I do two pages. (Year 6 student)

The thing I like is being able to share ideas with others – it helps to learn from other people. (Year 3 student)

The positive effects of digital learning objects were found to be clear and relatively consistent. These results are early evidence of the difference that learning objects can make in the efficiency and effectiveness of students’ learning. These findings also support earlier Australian evidence describing the significant positive effects for the use of learning objects in Science. (Freebody & Muspratt, 2007) 

The findings of the evaluation reinforce the significant and growing international and national body of research that supports the efficacy of ICT in enhancing teaching and learning across K12. Becta, the United Kingdom government’s lead agency for ICT in education research, indicates that ICT makes a real difference in education and skills. ICT motivates learners, thereby improving retention and results. It opens up a world of resources and materials for teachers, trainers, tutors and learners. And it helps providers operate more effectively, saving money, eliminating duplication and reducing workloads.

 

Reference

Freebody, P & Muspratt S, 2007, Uses and Effects of The Le@rning Federation’s Learning Objects – An Experimental and Observational Study. The Curriculum Corporation, Melbourne.

KLA

Subject Headings

Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Elearning
Western Australia (WA)
Curriculum planning