Saturday, October 08, 2005

Mike Quickfall

Using Learning Objects to Produce Learning Materials for In-Service
Teacher Education

Mike Quickfall, University of Edinburgh
Friday, September 30, 2005, 10:00-10:45 am

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For more than twenty-five years, the UK has invested in ICT in the expectation that it will improve the quality of learning and teaching. However, the introduction of ICT requires significant change in the way that both learners and teachers interact and by the teaching and learning methods they employ. Despite several national initiatives to stimulate change, there has been a slow rate of adoption of ICT for learning, by teachers in schools. Even the government’s New Opportunities Fund, ICT training program which specifically set out to train teachers had little impact, being criticized by official evaluations and other observers who maintain that the program generally did not achieve its aims. Bringing about successful educational change has for many years been the subject of intense debate and writers have highlighted the possibility of bringing about change in education through a deliberate process. (Fullan, 1991)

The University of Edinburgh led a consortium of Universities and a local authority to produce a course to train teachers in the use of ICT using a combination of e-learning materials (CD-Rom and online) combined with appropriate support mechanisms. The initiative which trained 650 teachers demonstrated through a rigorous process of evaluation that it had met its aims and changed the way that most of the learners perceived the use of ICT. Comparison with the typology of outcomes developed by Harland and Kinder also revealed that the program met the nine outcomes needed to be met if a CPD initiative is to be successful in bringing about planned change, giving further evidence of the program’s effectiveness. Whilst the initiative itself was deemed successful it was not sustainable, due to the expense of the provision and the unwillingness of external agencies to create similar funding opportunities. Setup costs were high and the materials quickly became dated. However, a great deal was learnt from the experience and highlighted possible ways forward that could utilize current materials, reduce the costs of production with relatively easy updating of the materials.

A second project funded by government to make available an extensive library of multimedia resources is currently being created and organized by the University. By using the online database of multimedia assets and by developing easy to use techniques for creating learning scenarios and by building upon the knowledge and skills of the earlier project we are now beginning to create alternative learning environments that are more cost effective to produce, easy to modify and which can be used in a variety of different learning contexts. Whist the database of assets is very large and now in its third year, the use of the resources to create specific learning scenarios is relatively new. Preliminary informal evaluation leads us to be confident about the efficacy of the technique but systematic evaluation has not yet begun.

The paper will describe in detail the first project showing how it set out to provide a learning environment for the teachers but also to highlight some of its failings and adjustments that were needed as the project progressed. The design team had not foreseen some of the difficulties it faced or some of the design and usage issues that became potentially very critical to the success or failure of the project. The project was concerned primarily with learning to use ICT to support learning. One of the major difficulties faced by the project was the inexperience of the learners with ICT, a fact not surprising as they were undertaking the course because they were not experienced with ICT. However this raises a fundamental question about the levels of competence required by learners if they are to make full use of interactive e-learning based materials. If indeed our course participants were initially intimidated by the technology they were to use, then it would seem reasonable to suppose that other learners in other learning contexts would likewise be adversely affected.

The experience of designing and implementing the training program provided a valuable insight into the experience of learners with technology. The learning modules now being implemented have been informed by that experience and will be described in the paper along with a description of the database of learning objects that it draws upon. The team members are hopeful that the techniques will be capable of expansion into other learning contexts and are exploring its use in environments where English is not a first language.


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