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E-content 

Digital Learning Resources
The main emphasis to ICT developments over the last few years has necessarily been based on the provision of ICT resources, networking and Internet connections (NGfL). In recent times, emphasis has been placed on the training needs of teachers in using ICT (NOF ICT training). Current school developments in using Broadband technology will mean that schools will have more speedy access to the Internet.

Another component of this equation and a potentially limiting factor on some schools' current ICT work across subjects, is the extent to which the school can make available digital curriculum content and online course materials. Historically, computers in ICT rooms are typically set up to provide information tools like wordprocessor and spreadsheet applications, but usually offered relatively few electronic sources relevant to a given subject. This would be analogous to going into a library and finding a photocopier and a pair of scissors, but no books.

The DfES recognises the need for supporting learning using electronic source materials and online courses and is promoting such developments through the Curriculum Online initiative.

Becta suggests that school development plans should address how the school will:
"ensure that the infrastructure enables staff to access valuable content – the information and resources for teaching and administration, including tools for planning, assessment and recording as well as productivity tools and curriculum materials." -
Connecting Schools 2002

The next key area for development of ICT in schools will be the development and use of
digital learning resources, or 'e-content'.

How much e-content does a school need?
Potentially, any school subject where pupils work with information lends themselves to being improved using ICT as the medium for learning. An e-learning ideal would be the goal of being able to choose any lesson that had been already planned and to be able to teach it more effectively in an ICT room. To do this, one would need to have all the curriculum materials, source materials for research in the topic, pupil assignments etc. needed for that lesson available in electronic form. The answer to the question of sufficiency must therefore be that we might aim to acquire e-content to match every topic in the school curriculum.
It is clear that the development of e-content, and with it the aim of improving professional practice in the use of ICT, will be a big issue in schools for the next few years.

Where will we store e-content?
An issue to consider in developing e-content is where to put it. An important principle will be to avoid using broadband connections to keep downloading the same resource more than once. This will slow the system down (even at 2Megabits per second). Frequently used electronic sources should be stored locally ('locally cached'). The broadband connection should take priority for learning activities that can't be cached, like videoconferencing.

Materials to support planned lessons could be conveniently sited on the school's ICT system. Content for managed learning programmes would probably be sited in a 'Content Delivery System' - a special server provided by the publisher. Online courses and area-licensed publisher's materials could be sited at RBC or LEA level. Materials to support research activities into non-predictable topics will stay out on the Internet.

The difference between an ICT room and a learning centre
Schools need to be clear about the difference between an ICT room and a 'learning centre'.
One is a place to learn about ICT. The other is a place where effective learning takes place using a high-quality electronic library of digital resources. In the ICT room it is the technology that matters. In the learning centre it is the quality of learning that counts, aided by the quality and range of digital content.

Both are needed in a school. The ICT strand of the National KS3 Strategy for ICT requires well-equipped ICT areas with multimedia resources. Curriculum Online will require a well-equipped learning centre able to promote new developments in e-learning. The two areas can be one and the same thing, but it is better to consider them as separate concepts until they can be shown to serve both purposes effectively.

Working with E-content needs more than ICT skills
The development of ICT in schools has been a series of journeys to the next horizon, only to find that when we get there and look over it, there is still more to do.
Predictably, over the next horizon, beyond developing e-content, will be the need to help pupils to use e-content effectively. Current concerns over pupils cutting and pasting information as a substitute for learning are an indicator that we need to do more work on this. For the answer to this particular difficulty we can turn to the rules of research. One rule for the pupils - identify your sources and do not claim them as your own work. And one rule for the teacher - don't mark sources! Only mark the new knowledge demonstrated by the pupil in making use of the source information.

When pupils are working at the highest levels with ICT within any knowledge-based subject they will probably be undertaking some form of enquiry. To undertake an enquiry independently they will need to possess the skills associated with each stage in the enquiry. Such skills are shown in the table below. Demonstration of these skills each leads to the display of an ability - which is the language of attainment - and can be recorded as such.

The question for schools is "Where in your school's curriculum do pupils acquire the individual enquiry skills that support the development of attainment ?"

The table below is one way to represent the skills of enquiry that underpins much high-level ICT work. One likely aid to effective ICT work will be to make the stages, skills, abilities and success criteria for developing enquiry skills explicit, and sharing it with pupils.

 
Stage Activity Skills Ability Success Criteria
Plan Projecting

Drafting

Forecasting
Defining
Visualising
Sequencing

To think ahead
To apply knowledge
To structure and organise
To break into stages
I wrote down what I needed to do
I produced a plan
I made drawings to explain the project
I broke the plan into separate stages
Select Locating

Retrieving
Identifying
Scanning
Searching
Recognising
To find information
To extract key points
To be systematic
To exercise judgement
I noted the best places to look
I collected the important information
I used simple and advanced searches
I know which ideas are most important
Process Analysing

Interpreting

Extracting
Deducing
Reasoning
Synthesising

To reveal and infer
To recognise patterns
To construct arguments
To build new ideas
I made bullet points to explain simply
I saw how things were related
I explained my conclusion in steps
I put together some new ideas
Present Laying out

Presenting
Designing
Illustrating
Communicating
Evaluation
To apply creativity
To use multi-media
To make effective points
To review and improve
I designed my presentation
I used text and graphics to explain
I asked people if they understood
I decided what could be improved


A goal of developing pupils' levels of ICT Capability will be to see them apply their ICT Capability to become better learners in their subjects. Effective e-learning will involve the promotion of a range of skills. Amongst these we could identify the skills of enquiry, information skills and thinking skills. ICT Capability is the only National Curriculum subject with the explicit expected outcome of 'capability' in its title. The most effective e-learners will know far more than how to use a computer. They will be able to undertake a cycle of enquiry drawing upon a range of skills to make intelligent decisions about their work as they proceed. Above all, they will be able to achieve this independently.

E-learning is not about delivering e-content. It will be about developing the abilities of the brain of the learner, through using the medium of ICT, to research, analyse, process, synthesise and publish.

Information is the raw material of our age
In the industrial age the main raw material was steel and as a nation we used it to build trains, machinery, ships etc. Some hundreds of years before that the raw material of the age was wood and as a nation we used it to build houses, furniture, boats etc.

Today the raw material of our age is information. We use it to create products like newspapers, books, plans, web sites, computer software etc. This ability to shape information into new products is a fundamental employment skill of our times.
As a nation we need to remain skilled at making products from information.

The process of teaching and learning in the Information Age will be geared to developing the learner's skills of seeking, sorting, shaping and showing information. A successful e-learning model will require quality information sources, well-developed information skills and effective learning tasks. Our achievements to date are in developing infrastructure and teaching skills. The next step will be in building electronic libraries of e-content and ensuring that pupils are taught the range of skills associated with using information as a raw material.

Model of learning in the information age

In the post-industrial age the learning formula that most teachers will recognise was:

Teaching + Subject > Knowledge, Skills and Understanding

In the Information Age the model of learning could be thought of as follows:

                    
                    source: 'Learning in the 21st Century'

All three components to the left of the equation must be present in the learning environment for Capability to developed. High quality information sources, learning skills and good purposes for study are required for e-learning to take place. In this model, it will be the school's role to establish the electronic library of information, and a curriculum that teaches pupils the skills needed to use it. It will be the teacher's role to provide good purposes for learning, and to manage the acquisition and application of e-learning capability.

 
 

Useful Links

 
  Curriculum Online - digital content for schools
Virtual Learning Environments (Becta)
What is a web cache? (Becta)
 
 

Downloadable files  
 

Enquiry skills - skills for using e-content