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Don't depend on technology for easy answers, says report

Campus Review, 16-22 April 1997

Don't depend on technology for easy answers, says report

by Brian Donaghy

'The report basically says you have to get your planning right. That's not a very palatable conclusion at the present time. The fact that the consultants found it difficult to find eight reasonably coherent and illuminating case studies is important in itself'

Technology can solve problems in education and training but it is not a simple solution, according to a report commissioned by the Victorian Office of Training and Further Education.

Successful teaching using new technology is a two-way process, and it still needs a well-designed course, motivated and independent students, and mediation by a human teacher or facilitator, as well as appropriate technology, the report says.

The report includes eight detailed case studies from Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia, where various forms of new technology have been used with great success.

The authors appear, however, to be concerned that the technology may become the dominant factor in the planning process.

"The literature review revealed that a strong emphasis on learning as the chief criterion for using technology is not a feature of recent Australian studies. This view was reinforced by the consultations undertaken for this report and by the case studies," they write.

The report, A Planning Model for Innovation: New Learning Technologies, was prepared jointly by consultants John Mitchell, of Adelaide, and Robert Bluer, of Melbourne.

The report has been endorsed by the Victorian government and will be a major focus of a conference, Innovate 4 Learning, in Moorabbin next month.

"The report basically says you have got to get your planning right," Mitchell told Campus Review.

"That's not a very palatable conclusion at the present time when most people are grabbing for solutions."

"There are many who believe that the Internet has all the answers as an effective New Learning Technology (NLT); a view which is not as yet supported by a significant body of research," the report says.

"The fact that the consultants found it difficult to find eight reasonably coherent and illuminating case studies is an important issue in itself.

"Using new learning technologies in an innovative way to solve education and training problems is a complex process, and the key issue of evaluating learning outcomes is sometimes overlooked."

Other notes of caution to emerge from the report include

  • "The quality of instructional design is a significant issue."
  • "There is a need to continually research students' attitudes to NLT and to monitor their attitudes over a period of time."
  • "Student support services, such as local tutors or the provision of learning centres, are often more significant than the learning technology."
  • "Some disadvantaged groups prefer to learn in collaborative, communal contexts, which may be in conflict with the move to independent learning using the new technologies."
  • "Unglamorous technology, such as audioconferencing and print materials, can be effective learning tools."
  • "The costs of human support, hardware, software, networks and development are changing, making it difficult to accurately cost new projects."
  • "The yearly recurrent cost of using some new learning technologies often exceeds the total start-up capital cost."
  • "Planning models for the user of new learning technologies need to include information about the full costs, both initial and recurrent; the effect on disadvantaged groups; the professional development implications; and an assessment of the likely benefit in applying such new technologies."
  • "Many checklists exist in the literature for making decisions about appropriate technologies to use in certain circumstances, but these need to be adapted to each learning context."

Nevertheless, the report, mainly in the case studies, also highlights many of the advantages of new technology.

"Despite the difficulties and challenges … there is no doubt that the new technologies will be applied to education and training, not because they are there but because they are seen to solve problems." the authors write.

"These problems often relate to access, and require new approaches to flexible delivery, costs and meeting student needs."

Innovate 4 Learning, organised by the Victorian Office of Training and Further Education and Open Training Services, will be held at the Barton Institute of TAFE at Moorabbin on May 8 and 9.

The Mitchell-Bluer report is now available on the OTFE home page at http://www.vic.gov.au