This chapter provides a model to analyse the effectiveness and efficiency of Learning Objects being used in primary and secondary schools by considering their place within that educational environment, paying particular attention to the manner in which they, like any resource, can aid or occlude productive interactions between teachers and students. It draws from a study of Australian and New Zealand schools that piloted the first release of Learning Objects from the Le@rning Federation. The chapter considers the place of Learning Objects within the overall systemic school environment, and in this environment, examines the individual classroom as the combination of tensions between the teacher’s needs, the students’ needs, and the potential available within the existing infrastructure. Within this framework, the chapter discusses the ways in which these three components interact during teacher selection of Learning Objects, students’ accession of Learning Objects in the classroom, and the use of the Learning Objects by students. It concludes by suggesting how students’ construction of knowledge can be enhanced through merging the capabilities of the resource with the needs of students and teachers.
The Le@rning Federation began in 2001 as a collaboration between the state, territory, and federal governments of Australia and New Zealand. At the time of writing, it has placed 5,000 digital learning resources online, including a wide range of Learning Objects relevant to Literacy, Numeracy, Science, Studies of Australia, Languages other than English, and Innovation, Enterprise, and Creativity. The scale of government commitment meant that the first round of Learning Objects made available to teachers on the Internet during 2003 were a critical testing ground for this technology. At the same time, extensive guidelines were put in place to ensure that all offerings would be accessible, usable, and have educational integrity with a learner focus, as outlined in the specifications for developers (The Learning Federation, 2002, 2006). Underlying this project was a definition of a Learning Object as
One or more files or “chunks” of material, which might consist of graphics, text, audio, animation, calculator or interactive notebook, designed to be used as a standalone learning experience
Reusable—a single learning object may be used in multiple contexts for multiple purposes such as across curriculum areas, year levels, different locales, and cultures
Usable as a component of a topic or unit of work alongside other digital and nondigital resources and tools
Accessible from the World Wide Web and is referenced, located, and accessed by its metadata descriptors
A product that can be identified, stored, and tracked using a content or learning management system (Lake, Phillips, Lowe, Cummings, Schibeci, & Miller, 2004, p. 1).
Duval, Hodgins, Rahak, and Robson (2004) noted that “few papers [about Learning Objects] included clear guidelines or methodologies, or analysed in any detail what had worked and how or why it worked” (p. 338). This chapter will consolidate the results of an Australasian study into the impact, application and effectiveness of Learning Objects developed for primary and secondary classroom teaching and learning (Lake et al., 2004; Schibeci, Lake, Phillips, Lowe, Cummings, & Miller, 2006).
The study arose from the early stages of a major government initiative to develop online digital content, and involved case studies of 20 classrooms in 14 schools in Australia and New Zealand.
The four main data collection activities were student observation, student interviews, student surveys, and teacher interviews and observation.
Researchers visited schools in pairs. They spent between 1 and 5 hours in each classroom. Students were observed using the learning object and then about half (based on parental permission) were interviewed. Teachers were also interviewed during or after the lesson. Surveys were administered to students and teachers. In several cases the teacher selected students according to characteristics they felt made them of special interest (for example, cultural background, non-English-speaking background, ADHD, reading or mathematics difficulties). The researchers made no representations in this area. Researchers observed students using a learning object in the context of a normal lesson and did not provide assistance unless students had significant difficulties getting the learning object to operate and directly requested assistance from the researcher. All classroom activity was tape-recorded and transcribed for later analysis.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Selection (Teacher and Resource): Selection in the sense used in this chapter is more than a teacher picking a lesson activity. It is a complex sequence of choices where the teacher must locate a source of Learning Objects, evaluate the range of available Objects for the intended purpose, and then decide on the viability of integrating that Object into a multifaceted teaching programme. Each step of this selection process implies evaluative judgement. In involves an evaluation of the physical availability of necessary software and hardware, as well as passwords and permission to download onto the system infrastructure. Selection involves reflective judgements by the teachers of their own intellectual skills in areas like Internet searching and understanding the presentation of metadata. It also involves an emotional response from the teacher that may be dependent on subject or computer literacy, available time, a sense of empowerment—or disempowerment, and a host of personal factors.
Pedagogy (Teacher and Student): Pedagogy has been used in this chapter to include all aspects of the ways in which teachers create learning environments in the classroom through an appropriate alignment of instructional strategies and styles of the teacher and the Learning Object. As such pedagogical concerns include all the choices that affect how the students can manipulate the learning materials to construct and reconstruct their conceptions in the classroom. In this manner it will include the social aspects of the learning purpose as conceived by the teacher and the students, and the way in which the resource either facilitates or hinders that purpose. While the social construction of learning is at the heart of the pedagogy, it cannot be seen in isolation. Also important is the manner in which the learning context is developed and directed. The context is the environment in which learning occurs and a learning environment is created around the resource by the programming of the teacher and the reactions of the students. The pedagogy will also include a component where the physical and cognitive skills of the students are recognised by the way that the teacher and the resource draw on them to facilitate the learning outcome.
Access (Student and Resource): Access in the sense used in this chapter is not simply how the student brings up the relevant Learning Object onto his or her screen. A Learning Object is accessible when students can easily locate the Object, are engaged by what they observe, can work through the learning opportunities it presents, and, through its use, achieve some desirable learning objective. This process has components, including the hardware, software, connectivity, and regulations within the educational system that provide the student with the physical access to the learning potential of the object. However, accessibility must also recognise the developmental nature of education, for example in the literacy or manipulative loads that are required of students if they are to learn from the Object. Finally, there is an important social equity component of access where the Learning Object must be usable by all targeted students in ways that recognise, for example, individual student’s culture, gender and special needs.