The real problem of e-learning

Thursday, February 5th, 2015 | education, technology | Comments Off

Many look at e-learning as an education solution.  Some teachers achieve magnificent results when they capitalize on the power of technology.  But why are these successes the exception, rather than the rule?

Is "e" perhaps the problem?

Is “e” perhaps the problem?

The problem with e-learning is that there is far too much emphasis on the “e” and far too little emphasis on “learning”.  The focus in any classroom must be learning.

A good teacher who wants to make sure that learning happens will use any available tool to improve the classroom experience.  Technology is one such a tool, but learning suffers when learning is overshadowed by the tool: when the latest device innovations are glorified; or the praises of the learning management system are sung; or the bells and whistles of the e-book are emphasized.

Often, more time is spent choosing between available tools than thinking about how the tools will be used.  When technology is procured without thinking about the way in which it will support teaching and learning, and then dumped on a teacher who has not been given adequate opportunity to come to grips with it, it becomes a useless gadget.

There is nothing wrong with “e”, in fact, there is so much that is right about it – if we can only find a way of helping the education fraternity to harness it properly!

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The toolbox of a 20th Century teacher

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015 | education, technology | 1 Comment

Teachers ... what is in your toolbox?

Teachers … what is in your toolbox?

The toolbox of a writer contains words and grammar rules.  Imagine how difficult it will be to express yourself if you have a vocabulary of only a hundred words and do not know how to write in the past tense.

A good writer strives to know how to manipulate all the rule of grammar and makes a point of learning new words.  New words are constantly appearing.  Think about new words that have been accepted recently: selfie, podcast, cyberbully and emoticon.  The Oxford Dictionary word-of-the-year for 2014 is vape (meaning: to suck an electronic cigarette).  A writer who wants to remain relevant must know these words and understand how and when to use them appropriately.

How do you learn new words?  Few people sit with a dictionary trying to memorize words.  Rather, as we read and encounter a new word we find the meaning and then try to use it when appropriate.  The same applies to becoming proficient in the use grammar rules: practice makes perfect.

Now compare this with a teacher’s toolkit.

A teacher needs content knowledge, which must be updated regularly to remain relevant as the world around us changes.  But the tools of the trade are also changing.  A chalk board, books and pens are no longer sufficient.  We live in a world dominated by technology and learners expect that technology tools be used for teaching and learning; the cell phones in their pockets are constant reminders that technology is a part of their life.  Sadly, the skill to harness technology is often is not in the toolbox of the teacher.

How can a teacher remedy this situation?  Get a device; play around with it; become familiar and comfortable with it; talk to other teachers who have already used technologies in their classrooms; then dive in and use it in your classroom.  Remember: practice makes perfect.

Technology in education has a “vocabulary”: devices and content sources.  It also has “grammar rules”: the rules of engagement and the skills to use it in support of teaching and learning.

Previous postings on this blog may give you some ideas of how you can become familiar with technology and how to use in your teaching.  Click here to find an index to some of these postings.

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Technology in the classroom: knowledge, understanding, wisdom

Friday, December 19th, 2014 | education | Comments Off

When technology is brought into a school and teachers are confronted by it, they are often stymied: What are they going to do with it?  How are they to use it?  Their lack of knowledge, understanding and wisdom may freeze them into inactivity.

Survival skills: knowledge, understanding, wisdom

Survival skills: knowledge, understanding, wisdom

To illustrate: let’s assume you encounter a bull in the field.  You recognize the animal as a bull; perhaps you’ve seen one before, or seen pictures or videos of a bull.  You have also gained some basic information about bulls: they are stronger than humans; they can run faster than you; they can’t climb trees; and they don’t like humans.  All of these facts constitute knowledge about bulls.

When you meet the bull in the field the information you’ve gathered must assist you to understand the situation you find yourself in.  The bull is going to kill you; you have to take action fast!

Wisdom comes into play when you make the right decision at the moment when you confront the bull.  Are you going to try and outrun him?  That will not be so smart because he is faster than you.  So you will get into a tree as fast as possible.  Without knowledge of bulls and their behaviour, as well as an understanding of your situation, you would be frozen in your tracks.

Think now about a teacher who is confronted by technology in a classroom.  Prior knowledge is essential.  How does it work?  What are its affordances for education?  What are the constraints?  Knowing these things will lead to an understanding of how technology can improve teaching and learning.  Now, when faced with technology the teacher will have the wisdom of putting it to use to improve educational outcomes.

Note the sequence of these three steps.  First knowledge: without this you will never be able to take the next steps.  Then understanding: knowing how to operate a computer (or any other digital device) will be of no use unless you understand how it can improve educational outcomes.  Then wisdom: knowledge and understanding will help you to develop the ability to harness technology to make your classroom a better place.  But true wisdom can only be gained through experience, so you have to take the bold step of putting the knowledge and understanding to work.

The road leading from knowledge to understanding to wisdom for surviving bull encounters is quite easy.  The road leading from knowledge to understanding to wisdom using technology in the classroom is much more difficult.  It requires time, effort and dedication and then more time, effort and dedication.  But the results will be rewarding, for both the teacher and the learners.

(Picture credit: )

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Monday, May 5th, 2014 | education, technology | Comments Off

TPACK (Technology Pedagogical and Content Knowledge) … this is what I will focus on during the weeks to come!

TPACK framework (source:

TPACK framework (source:


Technology patches for education

Thursday, February 13th, 2014 | education, Uncategorized | Comments Off

Ample evidence exists that technology can make a huge difference in education. Many teachers in South Africa use technology right now to improve their own teaching and to help learners to learn better.

Some teachers use interactive classroom devices to keep learners interested and involved in learning material. Others have flipped their classrooms: learners access content at home on mobile devices and teachers then use class time for stimulating discussions and making practical application of the material. Older computer labs are still used with great benefit by teachers for reinforcement, drill-and-practice and research. In all these cases teachers report significant improvements in learning outcomes.

However, we have not seen that technology has improved the quality of education in general. Pockets of excellence exist, which proves the potential value of technology in education, but in the vast majority of schools in South Africa technology has had no impact on education outcomes (even in some schools flush with technology).

Technology is a wonderful patch to improve teaching and learning.

No point in sewing a patch onto this cloth!

No point in sewing a patch onto this cloth!

But why can’t the patches stick? It has been said that one can’t put a new patch on an old garment. Why? Because the fabric of the old garment may be too weak to hold the patch and so the patch is simply torn off.

Is this the problem in education? Is the education system so threadbare that it cannot hold onto, incorporate, and integrate technology into the system? If so, what can we do about the situation?

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Poor ANA grade 9 results: can technology improve them?

Sunday, December 8th, 2013 | education | Comments Off

The results of the Annual National Assessments (ANAs) for 2013 have been released this week by the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga.

The progress in most cases is encouraging; the different initiatives to improve matters seem to have had an impact.  Minister Motshekga said: “I am confident that performance in the education system is on an upward trend and all our interventions and programmes are beginning to produce the desired outcomes.”

One of the areas where progress was less than satisfactory is Grade 9 mathematics.  In 2012 the national average was 13%.  An improvement of 1% was made during the past year … but the fact remains that only 14% of Grade 9 learners are on standard in mathematics.

If anyone disputes this statistic: a special task team looked into the way the tests were conducted and confirmed that the assessment was fair, valid and reliable.  This means that the situation is really as bad as the ANA results indicate!

So what can we do about the matter?

Technology - a powerful tool to help develop mathematics skills

Technology – a powerful tool to help develop mathematics skills

Many initiatives and interventions will likely be launched to remedy the situation.  I believe, however, that there is one option that is underestimated: the use of technology.

Many superb software programs are available to assist learners with mathematics.  One such program is CAMI, a South African product, fully integrated with our CAPS curriculum.  CAMI can be used in schools with school laboratories, and is also available in the form of a home version for parents who want to sharpen the mathematics skills of their children at home.

The value of products such as CAMI is that it covers mathematics from Grade R to Grade 12.  Those learners who perform below par in a specific grade can be diagnosed with regards to gaps in their understanding and will then be directed to material to remedy the situation.  Through regular use of the programme, learners are helped to learn concepts and practise skills necessary to perform well in mathematics.  By using this program, schools and learners around the world have already dramatically improved their performance levels in mathematics.

Should we not investigate technology as an option to improve mathematic outcomes?

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Free tool to help you to create an interactive classroom

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013 | education, Gadgets | Comments Off

Since the launch of the Beta version of Qurio at the annual African Education Week conference in June 2013, EDGE Campus has been hard at work in simplifying this tool even further.  More features have been added, making Qurio applicable to a wider audience.

The new Qurio will be launched towards the end of October 2013.

Can this tool help you to create an interactive classroom?

Can this tool help you to create an interactive classroom?

What is Qurio?  It’s a web based tool that simplifies audience interaction and data collection by allowing anyone to create and distribute digital tests, quizzes, opinion polls and surveys with ease.  EDGE Campus claims that, compared to the tools currently used for these purposes, the new Qurio is simpler to use and works across a wider range of devices.

Qurio has been made freely available to all school teachers; in addition it’s making steady headway into the lecture environment where it is being trialled on a number of campuses as a virtual clicker/audience response system.

Lectures, events, conferences, workshops: none of these have to be one dimensional any longer. Owing to Qurio’s low data consumption and ease of access via any internet connected device, speakers can easily interact with their audiences and receive instantaneous feedback.

A unique Qurio Code distribution system links each respondent to a particular Qurio through either a URL, or a short code.  This makes Qurio well suited for digital and non-digital communication environments, such as print, radio and television. It’s just a matter of sharing the code with the audience, either by writing it on a blackboard, putting it up on a screen or sending it out via email or social media.

EDGE Campus has created additional resources to assist users in understanding how it works.  “We realized that eyes light up when folks see how simple it is to use Qurio. Because we haven’t completed our demo-mode yet, we decided to create some explainer videos and a few documents to show people how awesome it is without having to sign up and trying it for themselves,” says the developer.

While their passion lies in education, EDGE Campus realizes the value that Qurio can add to a host of other fields and they encourage anyone who may be interested to give it a try.

If you want to find out more about Qurio go to their Keep It Simple website, where you will also be able to sign up to be notified of the October launch.

You can connect with EDGE Campus on Twitter (@edge_campus) or on Facebook (EDGECampusHQ) or send an email if you require further information (

[This is a guest post, written by Gareth Heuer of EDGE Campus.]

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Will clickers make your classroom interactive?

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013 | education, technology | Comments Off

Clickers – also called voting devices – allow learners in a classroom to respond simultaneously to questions posed by their teacher.  Some teachers use cell phones (already in the pockets of learners) for the same purpose.  It is claimed that harnessing technology in this way results in an interactive classroom.

How does it work?  The teacher asks a question – typically a multiple choice one – and allows learners to use a clicker or cell phone to select the correct answer.  The results are collated and if a data projector is available, a graph can be displayed immediately, showing how many selected the correct answer.

Clickers can be a useful continuous assessment tool in classrooms.  But does the use of this technology transform the classroom into an interactive one?  Not necessarily.

A graph showing learner responses

A graph showing learner responses

The mere fact that children interact with a piece of technology does not guarantee that they are interacting with the learning material.  When the teacher displays the results graph and learners see whether they were right or wrong, and how many in the class were right or wrong, this also does not guarantee interaction; it is the same as handing a marked test paper back to learners.

But when the teacher uses the information gained from the voting exercise to reason with the learners, interactivity can happen.  For example, she may ask those learners who chose the wrong answer for the reasons for their choice.  Likewise, she can ask the learners who chose the correct answer to defend their choice.  In this way a lively discussion between learners will be triggered, with the teacher guiding the discussion so that the learners can draw correct conclusions.  Now we have an interactive classroom!

The value of technology in this case is that of a catalyst for interactivity.  In the same way as certain chemicals act as catalysts to let other chemicals react with one another, voting devices can spark off interactivity.  Interactivity happens between learners and learners, between learners and the teacher, and between learners and the learning material.  The technology is only the catalyst, but all depends on how the teacher uses it!

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New technologies to see animal dissections obsolete in the classroom

Monday, June 24th, 2013 | education | Comments Off

Gone are the days when the smell of formaldehyde emanated from high school science class rooms; no longer is there a need to make the dissecting of frogs, rats, and other animals a strict requirement to be the top of the class.

Today’s budding high school scientists can wave that all goodbye as new technologies such as narrated computer software, step-by-step DVDs and lifelike manikins are being developed to help students gain practical, and even hands-on, knowledge of internal biological systems. This not only improves the lives of animals, decreases their capture in the wild, and eliminates the need for intentional breeding, but also marks great improvements for the educators and learners themselves.

How can one dissect this beautiful creature?

How can one dissect this beautiful creature?

All animals are conscious, living beings. We look to our educators to teach our students to be respectful of all life, and to teach the value of that life,” says Erika Vercuiel, manager of the Animal Ethics Unit of the National Council of SPCAs (NSPCA).

There is no question that at times, medical research is needed, but we aim to replace, reduce and refine any process involving animals, especially at high school and first year university level.”

Countries such as the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Argentina, and Slovakia have already banned the use of animals in dissection at elementary and high school level. Several states in America have also passed policies that require schools to offer alternatives to dissection to those learners who do not wish to participate.

According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) in the United States, 95 percent of medical schools in that country, including Harvard, Yale, and Stanford, and all Canadian medical schools, have discontinued the use of animal dissection for medical students and none expect or requires students to participate in animal dissection.

The PCRM reports that both students and educators prefer the use of simulation-based training to that of the use of animals. Studies have also concluded that learners engaged in alternative methods, such as interactive learning, narrated software, and DVDs, retain as much information – and in some cases even more – than students using animals.

In addition, for schools not financially equipped to purchase animals for each student, each class, each year, along with costly lab equipment, the once-off fees for the purchase of alternatives are a welcomed affordable option,” says Vercuiel.

Lessons become more efficient, as the time spent preparing and cleaning the classroom, teaching etiquette, and explaining procedures is eradicated when alternatives are employed. In addition, educators can customise and save lesson plans for their students.

Utilising alternative methods to dissection, especially at high school level, teaches learners additional lessons and benefits that go well beyond the biology lab.

Vercuiel continues, “Making a stand in the classroom encourages students to become conscientious citizens, who respect animals and their environment. This type of compassion has been shown to overflow to the child’s surrounding family and community.”

On the other hand, an insensitive attitude towards animals, especially by adults the children has been taught to emulate, can actually be negative lesson for young learners.

Several alternatives are currently available such as interactive DVDs, lifelike models and interactive computer models. The DVDs include general notes for teachers, and introduction to the external features of the animal, then leads the learners through the digestive, urinogenital, circulatory system, nervous system, and skeleton systems.

For more information on the ethical alternatives to dissection please contact Erika Vercuiel

[This is a guest post by the National Council of SPCAs.]

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The conference scam

Thursday, May 30th, 2013 | education, training | Comments Off

Have you noticed how many e-learning conferences are held these days?  And each one is touted by the organizers as a can’t afford to be missed event.  Some of them are even called summits … adding a touch of grandiosity to the occasion.

How valuable are these conferences?

Having attended a good number of them over the last few years – and presented papers at many – I’ve developed some resistance to attending them; not all, but most of them.

Some e-learning conferences are simply a rehash of the same stuff: same themes, same topics, same speakers. Of course, some themes and topics remain relevant for a while.  And some speakers (like Maggie Verster) are evergreens who stay on top of their subjects and always have something new to share (and even if you hear the same presentation more than once, you are inspired and enthused every time).  But in general, why should we want to listen to repeats of known information?

Then there is the exorbitant price you have to pay to attend, often in Pounds, Dollars or Euros.  It may sound less than when the price is quoted in Rands, but it’s a con – with the current exchange rate you’ll be paying a fortune.

The ultimate rip-off is when companies buy speaking slots to plug their products. This is done in different ways.  Sign up as a platinum or gold sponsor, and you’re assured of keynote speaking slots … and you’re guaranteed a captive audience that will not leave their seats because they paid through their necks for them.

Earlier this year I had an experience with organizers of an e-learning conference that really jolted me.  I submitted a proposal to deliver a paper at this conference.  A few weeks later I received an email request for a company sponsorship.  I passed it on to the marketing division of the company for which I am working.  After consideration it was decided not to sponsor the event, and the organizers were informed.  A few days later I received a call from the organizers and the conversation when something like this:

“We were wondering if you could talk to your company about a sponsorship,” the man said after we exchanged customary pleasantries.

“I’ve passed your request on to our marketing division, and I believe that they have communicated their decision to you,” I replied.

“Yes, the marketing folks decided that they will not give us a sponsorship.  Is it possible that you can help us to change their minds about this?”

“I would not want to do that,” I said.  “Our marketing guys know best what the company can afford and how the marketing budget should be spent.”

“It’s a pity,” the man said, and paused a few moments.  “I notice that you have sent a proposal to deliver a paper.”

“Yes, I did, but I have not received any confirmation yet.”

“You see, that’s just the point.  We’re currently going through the proposals and your chances to be accepted are increased considerably if your company gives us a sponsorship.”

I was speechless.

If my proposal was turned down because my topic was not appropriate to the theme of the conference, or the abstract was weak, or the organizers thought that I am not a good enough speaker, I would have accepted it without any argument; not all proposals fit and not all are accepted.

What is the implication?  Those presentations that you and I pay to see are often selected, not on the basis of the merit of the material to be presented, but because the slot has been bought.

Does this mean all conferences are suspect?  Not at all!  Conferences remain a valuable way to gain and share knowledge and experience.  But before you sign up for the next conference, check who the sponsors are, who the speakers are, what their topics are, how much you have to pay to attend … also who the event organizer is … and then decide whether attending this event will be a good investment.

Beware of the conference scam!

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