“We have been aware for some time it takes a digital village to educate the child in a socially networked world.” (Mal Lee, LinkedIn, 2015*)
Educational technology has the potential to be incredibly influential in young learners’ lives, both inside and beyond the classroom, but it cannot be effectual if teachers and learners struggle to integrate digital educational tools into their classrooms and teaching programmes.
In fact, beyond just making use of ad hoc digital educational tools, South African primary and secondary schools have a need to become integrated digital ecosystems, utilizing significant technology and good quality, curriculum-based content in a way that is seamless and effective. An end-to-end digital education ecosystem includes internet connectivity, digital devices, a school management system (SMS), a learning management system (LMS) and analytics.
The critical start-point is stable Internet connectivity. This being accomplished, a school SMS serves to streamline a school’s academic, employee and financial administration. Learning Management Systems centralise both learner administration and also facilitate the creation and delivery of lessons as well as providing online teaching material, accredited textbooks and library resources. The LMS allows teachers to easily implement a blended learning strategy. The key components of a blended learning strategy are:
- A portion of the learning is delivered with digital or online media.
- Some of the learning is student-directed in terms of time, pace and place.
- Learners gain the ability to share their knowledge with others, and to benefit from the skill sets of their peers.
In support of blended learning, a White Paper entitled An Analysis of e-Learning Impacts & Best Practices in Developing Countries, published by Michigan State University states: Research by Haddad and Draxler (2002) conducted in the UK and Africa (Ghana, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania) identified two main reasons why teachers use ICT in the classroom. First, teachers felt that their own use of computers benefited their learners, and second, teachers felt learners benefited from using computers themselves. The learners were seen to gain confidence, self-esteem and renewed motivation. The authors categorize technology use in the classroom at five levels: presentation, demonstration, drill and practice, interaction and collaboration. They noted that when the pedagogy shifted from a teacher-centered classroom environment to a more learner-centered environment, the effectiveness of ICT was enhanced.1
Along with access to digital devices, teacher and learner access to quality curriculum-based content is the key to the value of a learning management system in the classroom. Teachers can increase their efficiency with a digital platform that allows them to set a clear learning path with search and filter capabilities, for use both by themselves and their learners. Additionally, when a proper LMS is implemented, there is no need to search endlessly to find particular content. Content that is created using Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) as a set of technical standards for e-learning software products makes it shareable on any LSM that is SCORM conformant.
The analytics-capability of a digital ecosystem enables teachers and principals to look at learner-specific socio-economic information, and to track each learner’s educational progress. Individual learner information can be aggregated to reveal class and school trends.
*Mal Lee is an educational consultant and author specializing in the digital evolution and transformation of schooling and teaching, the impact of digital normalisation on school transformation, and the evolution and impact of digitally connected families on the education of the world’s young.