ACER’s Digital Education Research Network launched

For quite some time, I’ve been of the opinion that those of us pushing boundaries with our use of technology in education are in need of the support of the research community. Too many of us seem to be up against school administrations who are not willing to allow teachers to push their classrooms into online spaces and use the communicative potential of the web. We share our stories and successes with one another in our networks, but they can be viewed as anecdotal and pushed aside or disregarded by those unwillingly to open their eyes to new ideas. It seems to me that administrators trust the findings of researchers, particularly an organisation like the Australian Council of Educational Research (ACER). That’s why I’m excited about the launch of the Digital Education Research Network. (DERN)

But first, full disclosure. Gerry White, Principal Research Fellow in Digital Learning for ACER, invited me last year to join a Reference Group helping to inform ACER about the establishment of this network.  I was very impressed to see ACER reaching out to a grassrooots educator who could provide some perspective of informal online networks, and the efforts educators in this area are making with new and emerging technologies for learning purposes.

The site has just been launched. Here’s what it’s about from the front page;

Digital Education Research Network (DERN) is a network of researchers interested in research about education and the use of digital technologies to improve teaching and learning. It focuses mainly on Australian research although not exclusively. DERN is looking for research evidence about good educational and learning practices. Please join us to share your insights into and knowledge of research into teaching and learning using digital technologies.

The network allows you to sign up but you will need to wait for your membership to be approved. This is a big move for ACER, an organisation that forms the basis of much of the education research coming out of this country. The site contains links to research organisations worldwide, and will be peppered with articles to support all of us in our understanding of the types of research we can draw on to support us in our  efforts to validate the work we are doing with our students. There exists the ability to contribute your ideas through discussion tabs and posting comments on blog posts.

It’s not as intuitive as a Ning site, but I’m impressed that outreach has been initiated and there is acknowledgment that teachers who have accrued knowledge are welcome;

“Users of DERN may be experts in ICT, media, pedagogy, emerging technologies and related areas and are probably well briefed in the area of elearning research, as well as scholars seeking details about what research has been done, possibly for their own research purposes.”

(DERN’s About page)

I’d encourage you to sign up and read Kathryn Moyle’sBuilding Innovation: Learning with Technologies‘. Those of us who have been talking about the need for systemic change will find this paper written for the Australian Education Review illuminating. The foreward is written by James Bosco, Professor Emeritus in Education Studies at Western Michigan University. I literally stood up and applauded when I read James’ words;

Teachers, principals, and other school personnel who have acquired new techniques, and who function within the existing structural context of schools, are often discordant elements – aberrations. If they are sufficiently motivated and persistent, they may be able to make good use of their capability, despite incompatibilities with the existing situation. But to expect them to move the school system into harmony with their preferred practice is to expect too much. Their good work may last only until they burn out or move on.

Hear, hear! Kathryn’s paper addresses how our education system can respond to emerging technologies and their value to assist the learning process. Kathryn says;

“Including technologies in teaching and learning requires a reconceptualisation of the curriculum and how it can be taught. Using technologies to simply replace blackboards with whiteboards and pens with computers and word processors does not constitute a reconceptualisation of teaching and learning, nor the nature of school education. Such an approach will not support students to ‘learn, unlearn, and relearn’.” (p.4)

Kathryn makes very interesting observations regarding proprietary software and the hold it has within our education systems;

“Almost all Australian schools provide Microsoft Office® on their computers. Individual schools and most of the Australian state and territory departments of education have signed contracts with the Microsoft® Corporation for the provision of operating systems and other software. The recurrent costs to taxpayers, for school students to simply boot-up a computer at school is, nationally, millions of dollars each year (Moyle, 2003). This widespread deployment of Microsoft® products establishes a ‘commonsense’ view (Gramsci, 1971) of the necessity for its products. At the same time the company receives legitimation and authority through the state for its products, given they are considered suitable for use in Australian schools. This acceptance of the commonsense value of particular software products over others then puts pressure on parents to have and maintain compatible software at home: the marketing strategy is circular, complete and self-sustaining.” (p.18/19)

Kathryn makes the case for a shift to open source alternatives, saving schools thousands of dollars, and potentially freeing up money that can be dedicated to the professional development of our teaching communities to enable teachers to respond to new ways of teaching and learning with emerging technologies.

In Section 4, Student’s uses of Technologies, Katherine identifies a high quality 21st Century education dependent upon;

“allowing students to discuss their learning with other students, to network and communicate with each other, to share their ideas and solutions to problems they are trying to collectively solve. Networking between students and teachers in different institutions can enrich the curricula and increase the transfer of generic and subject-related knowledge and skills between practitioners.” (p.38)

Validation for the use of a Ning environment in schools right there!

Honestly, there is so much in Kathryn’s paper you just have to read it. I couldn’t sleep the night I read it, and I think it was because I had so many ideas running through my head I was incapable of rest.

This is why a network like DERN will be worthwhile. Here we will find the research we need to read; research that will help us all to make the case for systemic change in our school systems. Change that will ultimately benefit the students in our charge and prepare them well for their future lives in a knowledge economy.

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