Learning Technologies

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Donna Benjamin
11 September 2005
Infonet 2005 issue 3 volume 15

I was meant to be writing an article on learning technologies for this issue of Infonet, but I have been feeling like the serpent eating its own tail. What could I possibly write about learning technologies that ICT teachers wouldn't already know about? What aspects of the debate about computing across the curriculum haven't they already heard? Not much I think, and yet the need to evaluate learning technologies and discuss ICT in education with one's non-IT specialist colleagues is ever present, especially with VELS looming.

I was perusing the draft of the new study design for VCE ICT and noted 'gophers' in the list of problem types and software tools printed on page six.

Hang on - Gophers? Did I read that right?

Should we really still be using Gophers to help students with their learning? I was surprised to find that Gopher servers still exist. This network protocol even has an enthusiastic following of people who believe it to be superior to HTTP. Check out the wikipedia entry on Gophers to find out where the debate is at, and find out how to access Gopher servers using a web browser: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gopher_protocol

Once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away, I discovered the internet. Well no, perhaps it wasn't really that long ago, or that far away. It was 1994 in a college room at LaTrobe University. I was researching an Honours thesis on Australian Women Theatre Directors. I'd been using CD-ROM databases and microfiche. There were no 'books' on my chosen topic. I was frustrated by there being so few articles. I conducted interviews and scoured statistics. A friend had a terminal in her room, and she used it to access the library without stepping foot outside her door.

I was so impressed.

Being a fortunate human being, I'd been given a macintosh powerbook for my 21st birthday. It was my first very own computer and now I'd seen the light, I wanted the light on my mac. After some to-ing and fro-ing, refusing to take no for an answer and finding the right kind of cable, I hooked my powerbook up to the connection in my college room and logged on to the VAX system. I found the library and my research took off in unexpected new directions. Yes, I even explored the text-based world with baby steps by using Gopher.

But then I found email, and learned to see if other people were online using WHO. Then I discovered how to communicate with them in real-time using TALK, and they told me about other places where I might find other people online. So I tumbled headlong down the rabbit hole, to steal a phrase from Lewis Carrol, and into the world of telnet bulletin board systems. It is a direct path from there to here, as it was a connection formed on the LaTrobe University Computer Society telnet bulletin board that lead to both my involvement with VITTA and my introduction to the community of Information Technology Teachers served by this publication, Infonet.

How I wish I had access to http://scholar.google.com/ then! I just did a search for 'theatre directors' and found an article called "Synthetic Interviews: the Art of Creating a 'Dyad' Between Humans and Machine-based Characters". Unfortunately the full text is not available online, but the listing of where it's been cited leads to an article called 'Developing an Effective and Efficient eLearning Platform'. It seems we've come full circle.

The Internet itself could be the greatest learning technology invented since the Teacher. The great interconnected network of networks has just about delivered us a version of the hitch-hiker's guide to the galaxy. We can access information on any conceivable topic on any connected device.

I'm sure many of you have stories to tell about discovering the internet. Was it getting your first email address? Or reading your first web page? Head along to the VITTA site and respond to this article. This is an invitation to start a many-to-many conversation about where we came from, so that we might be able to better appreciate where we are going, and perhaps get fellow teachers from other disciplines on board for the ride.

Perhaps students today are unlikely to reminisce about 'discovering the internet'. To most of them it will be as unremarkable as learning to walk. How can we as teachers and technologists help them learn to run?

Applying technology to learning is about more than introducing computers to the curriculum, and training teachers how to use MS Office. Computers and Technology are tools, and there are many teachers struggling to incorporate these tools into their teaching methods. Some lack skills or confidence, others are reluctant to modify their teaching style to accomodate new educational theories. And still others just don't have enough time for reflection to develop and adopt new strategies. Therese Keane raised many of these issues in the May edition of Infonet. (See http://archive.vitta.org.au/pubs/infonet/view.php?id=135) Nevertheless, the technology is always changing, and understanding what is 'out there' is an ongoing challenge.

What follows is information on a range of 'learning technologies'. This is primarily a listing of course management systems, but also takes a quick look at new classroom approaches using Interactive Whiteboards and the Zing team learning system.


eLearning, Managed Learning Environments, Course Management System

eLearning systems are sometimes also called Course Management Systems (CMS), Learning Management Systems (LMS), Virtual Learning Environments (VLE), education via computer-mediated communication (CMC), Online Education or Courseware.

The Wikipedia is a great place to start when looking at eLearning, Course Management Systems and Learning Technologies. Try these two starting points.



This is a suite of Web-based tools that allow users to collect, analyse, and weigh information about a variety of e-learning products, services, and policies. The EduTools approach helps the education community make well-informed decisions in three primary areas: course management systems; student services; and e-learning policies. http://www.edutools.info/


Web Course Management systems

An excellent report from Xavier University, USA. Faculty members were invited to participate in a study that examined the advantages and disadvantages of WCMS as regards teaching and learning and to look at whether or not and in what ways they impact on the teaching and learning process. http://cat.xula.edu/scholarship/wcms/


Blackboard, Moodle and WebCT.

A comparison of satisfaction with online teaching and learning tools. Easy to read, with statistics and graphs of comparisons between Moodle and Blackboard. http://www.humboldt.edu/~jdv1/moodle/all.htm

Moodle is an open source e-learning platform. It has a large, world wide and rapidly growing user base. Moodle is server based software that helps educators create and administer online courses. It is backed by a learning philosophy referred to as a "social constructionist pedagogy". http://www.moodle.org

Blackboard is a web-based course management system designed to support flexible teaching and learning in face-to-face and distance courses. Tools include online course content and assessment management, and space for online sharing, collaboration and communication. http://www.blackboard.com

Like Blackboard, WebCT is another US based commercial courseware system. However it is mainly used by the tertiary sector. The website has links to a number of useful white papers and research articles about eLearning. http://www.webct.com


Interactive Whiteboards

An interactive whiteboard is a large, touch-sensitive board connected to a digital projector and a computer. A recent VITTA one-day conference on Interactive whiteboards at Goulburn Valley Grammar School is testimony to the buzz around learning circles that this technology is creating. A UK report found the key benefits include a more varied, creative, and seamless use of teaching materials; greater student engagement than conventional whole-class teaching; and facilitates student participation through the ability to interact with materials on the board. http://www.edfacilities.org/rl/interactive_whiteboards.cfm


Zing Technologies & the Facilitator Academy

Designed as a Team Learning System, Zing enables a group to learn together using one computer with multiple connected keyboards, or by connecting to a shared server over a network. Research coming out of the United Kingdom shows that Zing is helping teachers get kids engaged in their own learning. John Findlay, creator of Zing systems, has developed a program for schools called the Facilitator Academy, where not only teachers become trained, but the students do too. This helps them develop real skills to help themselves and their peers process, understand and create new knowledge. http://www.anyzing.com


MIT OpenCourseware

A free and open educational resource for faculty, students, and self-learners around the world. OpenCourseware supports the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's mission to advance knowledge and education, and serve the world in the 21st century. MIT OCW one is about the content, rather than the system. http://ocw.mit.edu/index.html



The Basic E-Learning Tool Set (BELTS) has been developed by The Le@rning Federation (TLF) to demonstrate the distribution, management and use of online curriculum content and to aid investigation of requirements for e-learning environments by Australian and New Zealand school jurisdictions. http://belts.sourceforge.net/


Donna Benjamin
Creative Contingencies