Aligning tech with education needs

12/01/2017 - 15:32

SPECIAL REPORT: More than 5 million jobs in Australia are at risk of digital disruption during the next 20 years, with a range of industries having already exchanged human capital for automated software and machinery.


Martin Dougiamas says the role of technology is to support, not replace the teacher. Photos: Attila Csaszar

SPECIAL REPORT: More than 5 million jobs in Australia are at risk of digital disruption during the next 20 years, with a range of industries having already exchanged human capital for automated software and machinery.

CHANGES driven by technology appear likely to significantly alter the way learning is undertaken as rapid developments in IT capabilities disrupt traditional models and education.

Technology providers say new digital forms and educators need to work hand in hand to take full advantage of this development, with the advancement of learning requiring input from both sources.

Among those in the local tech landscape advocating this collaborative approach is Moodle chief executive Martin Dougiamas, who believes while education technology has a place in the future, it should not compromise the role of the educator.

“Our mission is to support educators with tools, it’s not to replace the teacher,” Dr Dougiamas told Business News.

“Imagine a world where we don’t have teachers any more and we’re all learning from machines or software, some sort of bland worldwide product – that just doesn’t sound good to me.”

Moodle is a Perth-based free and open-source platform where educators can develop collaborative content for students and manage courses online.

Launched in 2001, Moodle is used by more than 60 per cent of all universities in Australia and many other education institutions and businesses worldwide.

Dr Dougiamas said it was evolving to include more analytic capabilities, such as identifying and notifying when a student was falling behind, and that he had recognised virtual and augmented reality were just around the corner.

“I’ve started writing some code, but we’re just experimenting,” he said.

“In four years you might not even buy a smartphone and you may not even need a screen, we could put glasses on and flip up an interactive screen right in front of us.

“So when the internet starts invading the real world in that way, what does education look like?”

As far as Moodle was concerned, Dr Dougimias said he was placing his energies on what the management of learning would look like in that space, developing the capabilities of assessments conducted in that virtual space and collaborating within the ed-tech sector.

Chief executive of WA Education software provider and 2015 Rising Stars winner SEQTA, Grant Grosser, said the team was working with Moodle to integrate some of its teaching and learning tools into its own platform.

“Every man and his dog can develop an app these days, the market is fairly crowded and competitive,” Mr Grosser told Business News.

“Seqta has been trying to work with others to make it more collaborative.

Moodle has some great tools and we’d love our teachers to have the ability to leverage these, but not in a way that fragments their workload.”

Seqta provides software to alleviate the burden of administrative tasks for teachers, with the aim to reduce workload so that teachers can focus on providing better learning experiences. 

Mr Grosser said it also allowed parents to be more engaged in a student’s school life without any extra effort by the teacher.

“Providing better learning tools and improving the engagement channels between students, parents and teachers is what’s important to us,” he said.

Perth-based Natalie Martin has leveraged her 15 years of experience as an occupational therapist specialising in paediatrics, specifically child development, to create online guide PlayBiz.

Natlie Martin is using the capabilities of technology to build and assist parents' knoweldge in how to equip their child with foundation skills before starting their school journey.

It’s a toolbox of video and written content on practical strategies, hands-on activities and tips to assist and involve parents in preparing their child to develop essential skills, such as hand strength and concentration, needed for school-based tasks.

“The first five years of life lasts a lifetime; it’s the critical developmental window that allows the laying of a foundation for a child and their future development and learning,” Ms Martin said.   

“There is much talk about the importance of the early years in a child’s school-readiness but little recognition of the disconnect between what parents, kindergarten and pre-primary teachers call school readiness.”

She said PlayBiz, which launches online tomorrow, was designed for use in the home using materials like playdough, pegs and hair ties so that it could easily and affordably integrate within a parent’s busy routine.

“For example to develop pencil grip, PlayBiz provides a library of strategies and acitivities including videos that encourage the use of playdough but in a certain way; it’s about developing the small muscles of the hand then reinforcing the pincer grip as that’s where the movement comes from when controlling a pencil,” Ms Martin said.

“Postural control, hand strength and control, attention and visual perception are some of the essential skills, or foundation skills, that are the bricks and mortar of the child’s early development –the building blocks for school-based tasks.

“It’s important to have those skills in place for the child to be able to do tasks like writing their name using correct grip control and letter formation.”

Ms Martin said it was not a diagnostic tool but a resource to support the parent in helping their child develop their foundation skills. 

“I know these strategies work and they are fun; it’s a naturalistic way of developing a child’s skills,” she said. 

Ms Martin said private experts in childhood development could be costly and that public development centres could have frustratiing waitlists of up to 12 months, whereas PlazBiz was a resource parents could have at their fingertips. 

PlayBiz is also a social enterprise and Ms Martin plans to donate 50 per cent of its profits to children-focused charitable organisations.

“Research tells us that a child who has a positive early learning experience is more likely to have positive short- and long-term education outcomes, so it’s important to provide opportunities for children to develop this," she said. 

“This is a resource that can help identify if there are areas of weakness in foundation skill development and provide activities and strategies in a fun and playful way to develop those areas of weakness.

“And I’m aware of the various circumstances families experience so I think it’s really important for education and information to be accessible to all families.”



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