Social inclusion and cooperative education with ICT

Social Networking and mobile accessible web design for better learning

Tom Worthington FACS HLM

Designer of the ACS Green ICT Course

Adjunct Senior Lecturer, Australian National University
For the panel on Making “social inclusion” a focus when creating opportunities for participation in cooperative education programs ACEN Forum, University of Sydney, 20 August 2009

Tom Worthington

Tom Worthington

Tom Worthington is an independent IT consultant and an Adjunct Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology at the Australian National University. He has been an expert witness in several court cases involving computer issues. After a career in IT policy with the federal government, he was elected a Fellow of the Australian Computer Society for his contribution to the development of public Internet policy in Australia.

Tom teaches the design of web sites, e-commerce and professional ethics at the ANU. He designed the Australian Computer Society's Green ICT Strategies course and is currently designing a ANU Masters course in sustainable computing strategies.

Tom is a past president, Fellow and Honorary Life Member of the Australian Computer Society, a voting member of the Association for Computing Machinery and a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

Use of Computers in Education Needs to be Planned

... the introduction of home computer technology is associated with modest but statistically significant and persistent negative impacts on student math and reading test scores. Further evidence suggests that providing universal access to home computers and high-speed internet access would broaden, rather than narrow, math and reading achievement gaps. ...


From: Scaling the Digital Divide: Home Computer Technology and Student Achievement, Charles T. Clotfelter, Helen F. Ladd and Jacob L. Vigdor, Duke University, July 29, 2008

Research by Clotfelter and others suggests that the introduction of home computer technology has a negative impact on student performance. Rather than seeing this as a reason for not providing computers, this indicates that computers and networking have to be integrated into the planned education. Just providing a computer will distract the student, rather than help them.

Bradley Review Fails on e-Learning

... A quality student experience in higher education ... An accessible and sophisticated online learning environment. ...

From: Review of Australian Higher Education, Final Report, Denise Bradley, December 2008

While the Bradley Review of Australian Higher Education asserts that a higher education requires a sophisticated online learning environment, there is only one mention of "online learning" in the 304 page report. The report contains no mention of the role of the Internet or the web in higher education, apart from noting that some alumni associations run web sites. Computer literacy is mentioned once, with reference to mature-age students who and those from rural and low socio-economic backgrounds.

As the Bradley Review notes, Australia faces a critical moment in the history of higher education. However, the review fails to recognize that ICT will be a major determinate in the reach, quality and performance of Australia's higher education system, rendering much of the detail of the report irrelevant to Australia's educational, economic and social future.

In the late 1990s I was witness to the process by which the Internet arrived, largely unheralded by government ICT policy makers (of which I was one). Carefully developed policies were abandoned and are mostly now forgotten by all but a few archives. In a similar way, web based e-learning is arriving largely unnoticed by education policy makers. Within the next few years his will render the current education policy makers and their policies irrelevant.

Run a course on your phone, or a war

Technology which was in Australian and US DoD is now in your phone

Exercise KANGAROO 95 took place in an area of over 4 million km square, across the Top End of Australia from July to the end of August 1995 and involved over 17,000 Australian Defence Force troops, and visiting units from the USA, Malaysia, Singapore, Papua New Guinea, the UK and Indonesia.

Reports and photographs were transmitted from the exercise area using stand-alone portable satellite communications terminals, capable of 64kbps.

As manager of the Defence home page, I received the reports at Defence headquarters in Canberra and up-loaded, them to a publicly accessible Internet server at the Australian Defence Force Academy.

For the first week of the exercise I was officially on holiday, but maintained the K95 home page remotely using a pocket 2400 pbs modem and lap top PC from Mallacoota, Victoria.

In later exercises, such as Tandem Thrust 97 made more use of the Internet for the operations. However, the level of technology used in these exercises is similar to that now available in a 3G smart phone for less than$1,000. During 2009, the price of these devices will drop to less than $500 and continue falling.

The web technology used by the phones has converged with that used on desktop computers for education and for delivering government services. Education and services can now be delivered to desktop computers and to mobile phones using common authoring tools and software. The same techniques used for providing accessibility to such services for disabled users can help provide a better service to all users.

Social Inclusion with ICT

Online education can help with:

But requires "Access to the Internet and information technology"

Indicators from: Compendium of Social Inclusion Indicators, Australian Social Inclusion Board, Australian Government, 2009

The Australian Social Inclusion Board of the Australian Government issued a Compendium of Social Inclusion Indicators in 2009. "Access to the Internet and information technology" is one of the measures listed under "Exclusion from services". There is a risk that using the Internet and computers for education could decrease social inclusion, by decreasing access to education. However, assuming this access can be provided, then the Internet and ICT, particularly mobile phones, can be used to combat other forms of social exclusion.

In particular, Internet and ICT access can assist with "Young people not in education or training", "Persons (adults) with low educational attainment", "Adult literacy", "Academic progress of Year 3 and Year 7 students in Australia", and "Access to services".

Online courses can be provided where and when required, either on their own, or part of a face-to-face program. This can be in a traditional educational setting at a school, TAFE, or universities. But it can also be in a less traditional setting, such as a library, other community facility, or group. This can help keep young people in education or training by making it more relevant and accessible, assisting academic progress. It can also be provided to adults with limited education.

Online education can be used to address adult literacy directly. Also accessibility features of the web can be used to provide access to services for those with limited literacy, as well as to those with a disability.

The Internet can be used to provide access to services, particularly by allowing a simpler path through complex administrant procedures of government and corporate service providers. The techniques developed for presenting information in an easy to understand way on web pages and to test the effectiveness of the information provision, can greatly aid access.

Mobile phones provide a new opportunity for providing access to education and to services. As well as providing a more available way to access the Internet, the limited interface of the mobile phone forces web designers to prioritize the information provided, removing irrelevant material and concentrating on what the client actually needs.

Designing Accessible Mobile Content

See: Teaching Web Accessibility at an Australian University

Cooperative Mentored Collaborative Online learning

  • ACS and ANU use Moodle for online learning:
    1. Students use their workplaces for exercises on CO2 reduction
    2. Discuss issues online with other students
  • ACS also uses Mahara:
    1. ePortfolio for students to display their work
    2. Used also for RPL
    3. Mentors provided to help students
  • The ACS and ANU use the Australian developed Moodle open source Learning Management System for courses such as: Green ICT Strategies (ACS: GITCS, ANU: COMP7310).

    Students are encouraged to use their workplace for course exercises such as estimating and reducing carbon emissions. The students discuss issues online. Apart from allow students to learn the course content, the online interaction it is a valuable skill for the student to apply in the workplace. The students can learn how to use these techniques in a systematic way, to achieve goals.

    The ACS is introducing the Mahara open source ePortfolio and social networking web application developed by the New Zealand government. It allows students to create a portfolio of their work to demonstrate they have met the learning objectives through the course or by recognition of prior learning.

    The techniques of using mentored collaborative online learning for computer professional education were developed for the ACS by David Lindley.

    A set of tools and techniques have been developed to make the content of web pages more accessible. The best known of these are the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, with automated testing in the TAW Accessibility Tool. The use of such techniques is required by Australian anti-discrimination legislation, including by schools, TAFEs and universities in delivering education online. What is not well understood is that while these techniques are mandated for access by people with a disability, they can also be used to help with slow Internet connections, for limited devices such as mobile phones and for people with limited literacy.

    There are additional guidelines and tools to help develop content for mobile devices, such as the W3C Mobile Web Best Practices and W3C mobileOK Checker. Previously this required development of a second version of the content, specifically for mobile devices. However, as smart phones become more affordable, with larger screens and better software, it is possible to author the same content for education and service delivery to both desktop and mobile devices.

    Providing accessible content and to mobile devices requires the web designer and the content author to make difficult decisions. Compromises must be made over what can be delivered and in what form. This can help make better content and better learning, by eliminating material which is entertaining, but not educational.

    More Information

    Slides for these notes are also available.

    Copyright © 2009 (Version 1.2, 6 May 2009) Tom Worthington

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