7 Infrastructure

being revised June 2006 - links updated
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7.1   Introduction        

This chapter discusses the practical issues that have to be covered once the Policy is defined. Infrastructure covers any standards, applications, techniques and guidelines which help to simplify or automate tasks in the education system and support the teaching process. So most of this section is about what happens outside class.

It starts with standards that can be adopted which provide a coordinated and standard flow of information in the education system. Also the applications which can be created based on these standards. These can occur at national level, and at school level.

At school level there is the issue of staff retention and professional development. These issues also apply to teachers as individuals. Also included is student streaming and timetabling.

At the next level there is the class, its lesson plans and curriculum objectives, which involve also teachers and students. Also applications with educational value, resources, guidelines and techniques.

7.2   National Level        

7.2.1   Student Record        

Perhaps the most important infrastructure required at National level is the student record. This can now be defined as an XML Document type so that most computer systems can interpret a student record and use it in applications. The student record serves many purposes. Primarily it is the document that the student leaves school with as a reference for future employment or tertiary education. As a computer record it can ease the task for employers and tertiary institutions assessing someones suitability.

It can be used by government to monitor the effectiveness of the education system by using the student records as a statistical base.

Both moving from school to school and within schools the student record can be used to automate class streaming, timetabling, and the demand for special classes.

The student record can also be used by a teacher to determine areas of the curriculum which require emphasis.

The student record is a complex document. It contains identity data, attendance data and academic record which includes three sectionc: Achievement, current unit plans for the year, including those in progress, and curriculum goals for the year. The academic record is the part that is of most interest to teachers. Identification and attendance are management issues. The academic record is a complex structure that could be arranged in a tree structure of School, Class, Lesson. The student record attributes of each Lesson include teacher, date, and assessment.   International Standard for Student Records        

The student record will be most useful when there is an International Standard for the format of the student record. With this format defined and accepted as an International Standard, software can be written anywhere in the world that will be able to be used on student record systems in NZ or anywhere else. This is an interesting project for educationalists because it requires some formal definition of achievement in a progression of skills. It would also be a foundation stone of any assessment system in this country, or any other.

Is it possible to pick up this gauntlet or do we understand so little about the process of teaching and assessment that this project is not yet possible?

7.2.2   Lesson ( Unit Plan ) Record        

The student record relies on there being a Lesson Record which describes the curriculum objectives of each Lesson for which the student is assessed. The Lesson Record is structured on curriculum levels and strands.

The use of an open format for the lesson plans such as XML DOM, means that lesson plans will be able to be created in any context. They will not be tied to any particular database, or commercial, governmental or proprietary body. This is fundamantal if education in the 21st century is not to become dogmatised in proprietary databases.

7.2.3   Class Record        

Once we have Student and Lesson records we can look at the Class Record. The Class Reord is, in part, the summation of the student records for that class. But it also includes the curriculum objectives for the class, and so it is possible to determine, at any point in time, the exent to which the Class has satisfied its objectives. There are objectives in terms of delivering the curriculum and also in acheivement standards. In a world in which the Foreign Fee Paying Student expects a commitment to a certain level of teacher performance, the class record will inevitably be used to assess teacher performance.

7.2.4   Teacher Record        

Lesson records can also be designed for lessons for adult education and teachers professional development. Therefore the teacher will have a professional development record, somewhat similar to the student record. The teacher record can be used to determine what lessons are more suitable for the teacher to implement. At present teachers get little guidance from resources over the net or otherwise about the real technological know-how required to implement a lesson. Teachers can spend many hours trying to source suitable class material, and be left with maybes that require them to learn a whole lot before they can be implemented. Matching the Lesson to the teachers development is an important aid.

7.2.5   Applications based on these records        

These records provide a huge amount of information. Indeed, maintaining the student record will be unmanageable unless it is automated. Here is a short list of applications based on these records.

All these applications should be sponsored by government as this investment has enormous long term benefit for the education system and the country, but is beyond the pocket or technical know-how of any school.   Statistical analysis of student achievement.   Statistical analysis of professional development.   Statistical analysis of curriculum delivery.   Statistical analysis of scool and class acedemic achievement.        

These four applications are essential indicators for national education policy.   Statistical analysis of lesson resources.        

This analysis indicates where money needs to be spent to fill the gaps in curriculum delivery. It can also analyse lesson plans that do not deliver compared to others. We are so far from having this information resource that it is difficult to appreciate the application benefits.

7.2.6   Standard of Educational Value        

Another important standard could also be introduced as an XML document type. This is a standard of educational value. This document type could be inserted into any document as a certification of some level of educational value. The document type would be used by search engines so that teachers could assess whether a particular webpage was suitable for a particular class.

A special spider which looks for this document type can build a search database for teachers to access. Teachers can then search for educational material based on specific educational criteria.

There is a problem here, in that educational value for one audience is not the same educational value for another audience. Nationalism , politics, propaganda, dogmatism, fundamentalism and zealotry all play a part in what one party might consider educational and another party might consider rubbish.

This means that any record of educational value for a webpage is only valid within a specific environmental context in which it has been reviewed. Once the spider has found a record the webpage is queued for review and a modified record that conforms to the audienve environment is placed against the original record in the search database.

When teachers review a webpage or other document for inclusion in the websearch database, they need to provide a code that the web searcher uses in order to match against queries. Some of the attributes that could be quantified have been listed above in the description of the web searcher. However, both the web searcher, and teachers and students using the resource need to have a common understanding of what the educational value information coded with the webpage actually means to them. This requires a level of overall consistency and rigour in the way the webpage review code is written up, both for use by computer programs and also using structures and concepts that teachers and students understand. This requires a standard to be specified before the web searcher can do its work, or any URL's are entered into the database.

Such a standard could be published and promoted as an International Standard, or it could be patented (like the postscript language) and licenses to use it in educational software programs could be sold to other software developers. This could be a money earner for NZ Education. It would also have spin-offs, in that NZ would not necessarily have to write all its own software to make full use of the information it had. NZ could buy and use software written overseas that would integrate with our own web searcher by using the Educational Value Protocol defined in the Standard.

As of 2000, New Zealand Institutions have moved to adopt a metadata standard, in particular the Dublin Core. Progress in this area is outlined at TKI. The Dublin Core uses RDF/XML, a Resource Description Framework defined within the context of XML. Its subjective entries are limited to description of the content of the document. There is no provision within the Dublin Core as to Educational Value, in terms of readership level, accuracy of information and so on. The Dublin Core refers to little more than bibliographic description that would be used in a library catalogue.

However, the use of the RDF/XML data structure is a good start and TKI uses this structure to describe the information that it holds. This data structure can be specialised to provide "indicators of educational value" under the umbrella structure provided by the Dublin Core. Perhaps one plan of implementation of a more detailed metadatabase would be to devise a structure which embodies some of the key values that teachers would be interested in, such as curriculum area, physical/cultural origin of the information and intended readership age/audience, and invite all authors to supply this information themselves. The metadata can then be reviewed as it is entered in the database and any inconsistencies sorted out.

It is an interesting project to design an XML definition for educational value and set up a database to which reviewers can ontribute revies and which teachers can search.

Educational Metadata Project

7.2.7   Assignment and Assessment Tools        

There is a wide variety of programs which are teaching aids. Many are highly developed proprietary products developed of several years for the education market. They tend to be expensive. They also tend to be modular, consisting of an assignment/assessment framework engine for which the school buys additional subject modules as required or as budget allows.

In general assignment and assessment tools can use any of the three architectures described above. Some of these architectrures are better suited to this application than others, depending on the type of teaching that is being done. The advantages of each of the architectures will be explained, along with their disadvantages and the types of situations which are most appropriate for their use.

7.3   School Level        

7.3.1   Student Records and Streaming        

Having computers in schools allows for the automation of the monitoring of student progress. This is specially important in a mobile society where a student may typically attend 4 different High Schools. If the student has been making good progress in several courses, how can this momentum be maintained in the new school? The client/server model of assignment work allows a detailed monitoring of student progress, permitting the identifiaction of problem areas and areas of advancement.

A student monitoring engine attached to the assignment servers would maintain a students achievement record, based on computer assignments and teacher assessments. The student record would have a history of the sequence of achievement, the current state of achievement and the achievement goals for the current year which would be set to at least meet the curriculum level appropriate for the student for the year, but also allowing for exceptions. The monitor could alert teachers to students who were falling short of their targets in specific areas. It could deliver tutorial and assignment courses in order. It could determine which students were advanced enough in a subject to act as tutors for lagging students.

The monitoring engine could also integrate with the school timetable to allow more flexible class streaming and respond to exigencies such as teaching staff shortages and temporary teaching staff.

The students record will follow the student through the school system. This means that the record must be of a prescribed form, so the student record system will need to be the same at all schools.

The school timetabling and streaming system may differ from school to school but all should be able to read the school record. Primary schools are not going to need as complex a timetabling system as a High School.

The student record will list achievements in a coded list of completed tasks recognisable by all schools.

One might think that list needs to be set natioanlly for this system to be used but this would take some time to accomplish. But another way of achieving this consistency is available by virtue of the web.

Students will always be entering the school system at any level from the outside. Students can list what they consider to be their achievement record to date. This can then be verified by the student completing a series of assignments which verify the level of achievement. Schools can set up their own system of achievement tasks which represent at any point in time the schools own ability to assess its student's progress and work in isolation. With the sharing of assessment programs between schools, a common body of assessment tasks will evolve naturally at a very fast pace and establish a de facto scale of achievement.

The student record system and the timetable system are complex systems that need to integrate with each other and also with the assignment server. This diagram illustrates some of the functions that can be performed.

The timetable system is in itself an interesting program. It attempts, given the availability of resource (teachers, classrooms, hours in the day) to assign a timetable to students which seeks to maximise the achievement progress which can be made by each student. For instance, at the beginning of the week, school staff can input staff availability and generate a timetable for the week. The timetable system uses the current student records to assign students to classes in such a way as to maximise their access to classes which aid their progession through their course to achieve their set goal. A student record may be represented by a vector of subjects (Chemistry=18, French=12,.....) and the Goal by a similar upper bound vector (Chemistry=20, French=20,....). Suppose that 1 point represents a weeks tuition under normal circimstances. Here the student will complete his curriculum goal in Chemistry in 2 weeks but will need 8 weeks to complete the French goal.

It is possible that the student cannot be assigned to any classes which will move him forward to his goals. This may be because he has fallen behind and there is no resource available to cover the subjects he needs to catch up on. It may be because the student is too far ahead in some and too far behind in others. It may be because a student is close to completing some goals but due to circumstances the resources he needs to progress in say French above are not available that week.

The timetable system can report on which students are not having their learning needs met. What is more this report is giving this information in advance, effectively allowing the school administration to take corrective action such as getting in extra remedial teachers for some subjects. This timetable conformance report is an important tool for determining whether the school is serving its students well. It basically indicates how the school is being managed to cater to student needs.

Secondly the conformance report, which predicts what progress it is possible for a student to make each week, can be matched against the students achievement report for the week to see if this progress has indeed been made. A mismatch here indicates problems with student morale or teaching methods.

In many subjects it is not workable to have students doing different things in the same class, chemistry experiments are a good example. But even in these cases the timetable system provides good planning and feedback tools on the performance of both the student and the school and will pick up students who may be having difficulty for whatever reason, within weeks rather than months.

The timetable system is also oriented to promoting personal (absolute) achievement rather than competitive (relative) achievement.

It is probably true to say that all students except the top 5 percentile in the school will lag behind in one or two subjects with respect to their personal goals. Schools may find it useful to set aside a portion of the school week specifically to address these shortfalls and keep students in synch with the course material being presented in general classes. The timetable system can be used to show the school administration if this is a worthwhile tactic to pursue, and how much remedial classwork is required. The admin staff can ask the timetable system questions by providing additional resource, say a temporary French teacher for a half day, to see if this significantly improves the achievement possibilities of the whole school for the week, or at least allows a student to move forward who might not otherwise be able to make any progress that week.

If students typically take 6 subjects then the timetable should be able to deliver an average achievement of between 5 and 6 points per student per week. This level should also be attained. If the timetable flags students who cannot expect to achieve more than 4 points a week then the administration should look at corrective action. The system can also report on students who are meeting their goals significantly ahead of schedule. Their goals may have to be raised and extra resources may need to be assigned to prevent their education from stalling. The reward for learning is advancement, if the student instead is placed in limbo for several weeks, this is correctly interpreted as punishment. The student will correctly observe that academic achievement is not rewarded at all unless you happen to be the dux.

The timetable system can also report on the extent to which goals are not being attained in each subject, and use this to review teacher practices and take corrective action.

It can be seen that the timetable system is a very useful tool even if it is not actually used to determine teachers timetables. In other words, a general fixed school timetable can be mapped out and specified as a constraint that the Timetable system must work within. Class timetables will not vary from week to week, but the work that students do in a class may vary by virtue of having the assignment server delivering the appropriate tutorials for a particular student.

However the timetable constraints can be removed so that an optimal school timetable can be planned at the beginning of each term.

Here is a more detailed look at the timetable system.

7.3.2   Student entrant streaming        

The student population is becoming more mobile. The problem of placing a new student in a school is a juggling act which we know disadvantages the student. Do we accept this and blame it on parents who move ? The country cannot afford the outcome of continuing to live with the problem. It cannot afford to have a heap of disadvantaged students. In time, means will be found to bring new students up to speed in required areas so that they fit snugly into their new class. Currently we cannot do this because we do not have the management tools for the job. The lack of tools engenders a lack of will to provide the remedial classes. However a system which assesses students remedial requirements and produces a statement of need for remedial classes for a body of students can then be supported by government policy to address the issue.

At present, the leading schools in NZ, the ones who select their students from a large list of applicants, do very thorough assessment in order to acheive good class streaming. Of course they get to reject those students who dont fit. In general schools dont have this luxury, and so schools tend not to bother with detailed assessment because they figure their hands are tied anyway. However an analysis of entrants can tell a school that it needs to modify its entrant class curriculum to cater for variations in student abilities both within a class, but also from year to year. The curriculum taught in Y9 one year may not be the curriculum that needs to be taught in Y9 the next year.

7.3.3   Analysis of remedial requirements        

At present it is next to impossible to adequately assess at the school level what remedial reqirements are, let alone organise and budget for them. An application which does this assessment in a manner approved by the MoE, can be the basis for funding for remedial classes.

7.3.4   Class timetables        

Teachers and equipment are the critical resources. But with poor quality of information and only simple management techniques, critical staff and resources are underutilised. Class timetabling applications can work out how to use critical resources more effectively. This may mean that schools can in fact manage with less resources, for instance, half the chemistry lab they currently use, half the computer lab and so on. Timetabling can point the way to smaller class sizes, flexible remedial options and strategies for dealing with staff leave.

7.3.5   Staff Recruitment and Retention        

7.3.6   Hardware Design, Sources and Installation        

7.3.7   Professional Development        

Professional development can use the same applications for academic records as for school students. In this case the course teacher can use the unit plan record to assess the value of the unit plans delivered. Each teacher is responsible for her own PD plan, setting goals and assigning unit plans to take during the year to meet those goals. But here again there is a problem. There may be no supply for the courses required by teachers. Teachers may attend night classes, by they can only attend what is available and this is planning is entirely casual. The PD requirements for a school or loacl area could be assessed to see what courses need to be provided in the coming year and what times are best for this. Alternatives like in-school training, nightclasses or residential courses can be assessed. At present PD is provided hand-to-mouth.

But the same applications used in the school can also be used to ensure that adequate PD is provided to teachers.

7.4   Class Level        

7.4.1   Lesson plan options        

This application looks at the class record and suggests a range of lesson plans that will serve to complete the curriculum objectives for the class.

7.4.2   Computer Assisted Learning        

This is a large topic and involves discussions in various areas. All this, and more, has been moved to its own chapter due to its increasing size.   Web Searcher        

Educational Psychologists decry the use of computers and the Web for educational purposes. They raise a host of reasons why the Web is an inappropriate resource for teachers, schools and students. For the most part their criticisms are valid, however they come to entirely the wrong conclusions when they say that using the web is bad educational practice. Unfortunately Educational psychologists seem to know little about computer technology.

In fact, the web is a fantastic resource for education and will become the major resource in the future.

However the tools that we are obliged to use to access the web are totally unsuitable for educational purposes. Web Search programs such as Yahoo and Excite were built for general unlimited and unrestrained use. The pornography issue has required that web access be "patched" to provide protection to children. But really no carefully planned filtering mechanism was designed into the web and any retro-fit will be unsatisfactory.

When teachers try to search the web in class with students a number of problems arise:

The current problem with using generic web search engines creates a perceived problem which generates a huge amount of debate. Should schools use censorship of the net?

This debate is totally unnecessary and arises because the wrong tools are being used for the job. Using a generic web searcher is a bit like sending students to the local bookstore to research a project, instead of sending them to the school library. There is no guarantee that the bookstore will have anything useful on the subject being researched and possibly what they do find at the bookstore will just be a diversion.

On the other hand no one has ever claimed that the purchase criteria for the school library comprised a method of censorship. The books for the school library are purchased for their educational value, not because they dont have pornography in them. This analogy indicates how superfluous the web censorship debate really is.

On the other hand it does demonstrate that schools need a special web search engine which selectively collects information of purely educational value. The information available via this search engine will be as carefully selected as the books are for any school library.

New Zealand is fortunate to have a national education system. New Zealand is in a position to create a search engine specifically tailored to meeting education requirements in this country. If it is working properly, in theory no other search engine need be used, and the issue of unbridled global access vanishes. Teachers will know that when they set students a task, there will be useful information forthcoming from the search that the students can structure to solve their particular problem. More than this, the search engine can be tailored to return pages appropriate to the readership level. The webpages returned would not be polluted by political agendas of other countries.

In addition to referencing webpages, the web search engine can also be primed with references to all the standard reference material generally available in schools via computer such as CD Encyclopaedias, and special Project CD's. The websearcher can also be primed at each individual school with references to computer material specific to that school. This might be work in progress for a school project under development, or for special proprietary CD's that the school has bought.

A web searcher for educational purposes also needs to be aware of its target audience. It is not much good returning the same pages on dam design to Y1 and to Y12 students. A properly designed web searcher will take into account the level of the intended readership requesting the pages.

The most difficult part of this project is defining the protocol by which teachers submit pages for inclusion in the web searchers index. This includes how submissions are reviewed, how this process is managed and who performs it.

Because of its regular use through all schools in the country, this application would be a prime candidate for advertising sponsorship support and could possibly pay for itself.

The application will consist of a webcrawler which selects pages for the review team based upon a special tag coded in the head of html pages. The tag will contain information sufficient to categorise the page for inclusion in the search index. This will contain curriculum subject, country of origin, readership level and keywords that describe the page within the context of its educational purpose.

URLs may also be submitted via web page to the review team for inclusion in the serach index. These URL's may be useful but not have the specially coded tag in their headers. The submitter would submit the coded tag for inclusion in the search index.

The review team will review webcrawler finds and pages submitted and approve their entry in the search index. Major additions may be publicised to schools as new project additions to the resource library.

The websearcher will look for candidate URL's in its own main index as well as in the search index of the computer which requested the search.

This education websearch resource has been implemented in its initial stages by TKI in its second incarnation. This includes a comprehensive system for submitting approved references to the TKI database which can be searched on the TKI search engine. This engine does not look like the familiar websearch of Lycos or Google, because it has been specifically tailored to its use, which is to access information within the context of the curriculum and the education system in general. Try searching for something in general and get some results back, and then look at the full record tag. You will see that a great deal of information is kept with the search: reference, author, media, readership level and so on.

The TKI database is still in the initial stages of being built up. This is a huge process that requires a lot of input from every teacher in the country in order to build up a comprehensive, indeed exhaustive, body of references. Note that books, CD's and other media can be included in the database. I personally urge all teachers to access the TKI search engine, but more importantly, to contribute site reviews for inclusion in the database. This can be done by accessing the TKI site review page.

Teachers could set themselves a target of submitting one site for review each week. At this rate 1 million entries per year could be added to the database, and within 1 or 2 years the initial population stage of the database would be complete.

However, at present, there does not seem to be any simple way a reviewer can check if the reference is already in the database. A checkup facility should be added to the TKI review page to save duplicate reviews being written up and submitted.

Another way of collecting suitable URL's is the following subsystem which justifies itself in its own right.

7.4.3   Collaborative Homework        

Homework has traditionally been a task that students did in isolation. The intention being that students all did their own work. Students were expected to all do the same task. The telephone has made contact between students doing their homework possible in order to copy answers within a classroom clique. Teachers are used to coping with this situation. But the telephone is not a useful medium for copying text. Requiring students to handwrite homework avoids the xeroxing copying problem. But today the emphasis on presenting work that looks professional means that homework, printed on computer, using a good quality word processor, gets credit. However this medium is also the easiest to copy between students on their computers at home.

An alternative to this kind of homework is collaborative homework in which each student does part of the work. In this case i is essential that all students cover the required curriculum areas but there are various kinds of ways that collaborative student homework can be designed using the web. This is because the web is so large that 10 people can go looking for something and come back with 10 different sources. Thus the net provides a mechanism for collaborative homework.   Collaborative web search        

Such a homework problem may be to research a topic using the net. The result of the search is a list of high quality URL's that can be used by the class in the next phase of the project. Students use generic web seachers from home, or the school's cybercafe, to collect quality URL's. When a student finds a good URL he assesses it according to its educational values and submits it to the class list of URL's for the project by using a passive school webpage. The school webpage operates like a simple message board. Students can access the message board of URL's to see if they are already found by other students.

Later, teachers can review these URL's and add them to the TKI database. Student who identify URL's can get recognition in terms of assessment, or a special badge.

Students with a special interest, or personal projects, may wish to submit URL's for review to be added to the TKI database, off their own bat, and also receive recognition for this.

This may be the best way to populate the web search database as it has the benefit that the intended readership level is active in the selection and review process.   Webpage Design        

There are three main audiences for webpages in the education sector: Anyone writing a webpage in the education sector should be aware of the different approaches in the use of technology, which are required for these three sectors. But overall there are a number of design criteria which should be born in mind overall.

Low bandwidth is a common factor, so animations and video clips should not be used. However scripting can deliver some animations at very low bandwidth.

There are some simple webpage design considerations that help overcome the bandwidth problem. Browsers try to display as much of a webpage as possible as soon as possible. The first file that is returned contains the text content of the page. This will be displayed immedaitely if the browser has sufficient information to layout the page even if images are not yet downloaded. The browser does need to know how much space to allocate to the images so this should be specified exactly in the html using the height and width attributes. Long tables have to be completey read and their contents mapped out before they can be displayed. So setting all the content within a table will degrade performance. It is not much good having fancy graphics at the head of the page if they take too long to load.

As soon as the browser has enough information to fill the current screen it displays it. This may only be a tiny portion of a large page, but it is enough to get the reader started on the page. The browser should be able to load the rest of the page much faster than the page can be read. This means that the top of a page should consist largely of content with little graphics and only small tables.

Extensive graphics, plugins and animations should appear well down the page where they will have loaded by the time the reader gets to them.

Only if the page is one of a large set of pages with common graphics, can you afford to splash out with graphics at the head of a page and rely on client caching to load the webpage quickly. But if the head of a page is full of the same graphics page after page, then what is the point of having them there in the first place. Typically a short compressed site name, and a site navigation bar are all that is required at the top of a page before page content begins.

Background colours and background images can also delay loading. Typically on browsers, the background is filled in after the text has been mapped out. This means that white or yellow text on a black or blue image background is unreadable until the page is mapped and the background is filled in. Dark background pages should be kept very small with the HTML page no larger than 3kb. A white background page can be of any practical size without degrading browser performance.

javascript can degrade computer performance and should only be introduced where nessessary to acheive a particular technical effect, such as a special demonstration.

CSS is an economical way of achieving special formatting effects, but many browsers support only part of CSS1 and students cannot be expected to have computers with browsers that support even CSS1. For writing student assignments for general use possibly even CSS1 should be avoided. In a particular class situation where the teacher knows what facilities the students have available, more sophisticated pages can be written.

Elements of webpage design infrastructure that could be usefully supplied are:   HTML and xhtml        
text "While there are plenty of HTML webpages around, webpages should not now be written in HTML. Schools should et a standard of using either transitional or strict xhtml. Schools should assess there current HTML pages to see if conversion to xhtml is required. If the webpage is expected to survive another 3 years, or if it contains text which is processed by computer ( in the text rather than in a <form> ) then it should be converted to xhtml. Any cgi scripts generating HTML should be converted to generate xhtml.

This is good practice and ensures pages will be able to be read in a few years time. It also paves the way for XML based applications which will become part of education in the next few years, when XML document types suchas student records and lesson plans come on stream.

7.5   Teacher Level        

7.5.1   Teacher Communication Systems        

There are already a large number of facilities available for teacher communications operating in New Zealand. There are formal channels via the Ministry of Education and Online Learning Centre. These tend to be message boards. There are two other varieties of communication, the chat room and the mail list. Most tertiary education departments in the country provide some sort of mail list service at least.   Chat Rooms        

Chat rooms need a very large body of people to keep them active, 1000's. It is doubtful that any specialist chat room will work in NZ. In particular webpage chatrooms have limited facilities compared to fully functioned chat clients which allow file transfers and logging as a minimum. Features like NetMeeting's whiteboard are also useful. A good all round text conferencing tool is useful for holding meetings, but is set up by prior arrangement. Even NetMeeting is mainly used by prior arrangement rather than casually like a chat room. Chatrooms are probably an entirely spurious feature of any site.

Students on the other hand may well find chatrooms useful, especially for sharing homework problems and answers, even between schools. They probably dont need any extra help with this process.   Mail Lists        

It appears that teachers have not yet taken on board the social aspects of mailing lists. It is important that they do so, because students will sure be using them. For example students can form a chat group or mail list amongst themselves and the whole class can conference homework problems at home. The capabilities for copying homework has now magnified from a small classroom clique to a whole class or even between schools and class years. Teachers need to acquaint themselves with the chatroom and mail list culture in order to appreciate these issues and how to design projects which avoid copying issues.

Mail lists require a body of participants before they start to work. A list of less than 100 members is unlikely to ever function properly. 300 members is a better size for regular communication but depending on the type of people on the list can still be quiet. A membership of 1000 can generate so much mail that it becomes a burden to members and it is time to split the mail list into lists with more specific interests. Within the context of New Zealand with 2500 schools and 50,000 teachers there is room for quite a number of lists devoted to specific areas, but if these lists are also distrtibuted across the tertiary bodies that host them they will be split too small. A better tactic would be for one tertiary body to operate all the mailing lists, and manage their evolution as they grow or fade away. All other schools and tertiary bodies would refer to the one mailing list server.

Mail lists can be used for several activities, some of which are obvious and some not so obvious:

A good mail list will perform all these functions to some extent. If it fails to do any particular one of these functions then it is underperforming but may still be functional. In particular a list with a large membership may end up focusing on just one of these functions effectively optimising its performance to its membership. At the same time the list may split to support sublists which support some of the other functions.

Because members are free to join a group or leave it at any time a list will lose members as that list fails to meet any member's particular needs. A list's membership profile may stay constant if it is specially geared to help newbies or it may develop as a static membership becomes more developed. In the later case the mailing list may develop into a professional clique of specialists in a particular area.

For fully functional lists to work, a moderator is required. The moderator runs the surveys and is usually the one to formally submit concept questions. The moderator or an aide gets the job of compiling the FAQ. Moderating even a few active mail lists can be a full time job but a very productive one because the job is done in a responsive environment. The moderators do not need to be in the same place that the mailing list server is based at. They can be anywhere.

Active moderation by people who understand what the role of moderator is and how to make it work is the key to a body of successful mailing lists being setup and run. To best serve a wide ranging membership base, even if they are all professional educators, central coordination and management are required.

7.5.2   School of Education at Otago University        

The New Zealand Learning Network has a variety of chat rooms and mailing lists.

Massey University

The most active mail list is nzcomped run by Massey University on their majordomo email list system. To subscribe to nzcomped send an email to majordomo@massey.ac.nz with the single line message:

subscribe nzcomped

This mail list is used by teachers, ICT advisers and tertiary educators, and is described as a List for professional educational computing educators. It is indeed professional and not a place for those who do not know how to use a mail-list in a professional manner.

The majordomo email address itself is used to interact with the email list system. majordomo is a program that accepts email from you consisting of commands written in a format that it recognises. You send email to majordomo in order to subscribe to a particular list. Majordomo uses your current email address as your identity. You can also ask for a report of all the lists available. If you want to unsubscribe from a list you do not email the list you are on. Instead you email majordomo with an unsubscribe message. This is explained in an email from majordomo which you receive as confirmation when you subscribe to a list.


Unitech is home to Phil Coogan and the English Online Site. It includes an active Forum for English teachers.

Mail list netiquette

7.5.3   FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions        

There does not appear to be any orgnised body of FAQ for teachers. Considering the enormously wide range of issues to be considered this is not surprising.

7.6   The Self-Tutor        

The stand-alone single-user program can be described as a self-tutor. It delivers a series of tasks or problems to be solved. If tasks at a certain level are completed correctly, the program delivers a problems at a more difficult level. At the start of a new level the program may deliver a tutorial describing new features of the new level. If the student makes errors the program may deliver remedial tutorial information. You will observe that this is also the structure of skill-based action games.

This type of program is good for a skill-based task such as a typing tutor. It is not so good for functionally deterministic problems such as maths exercises. It is a hollow victory to be able to answer arithmetic questions such as "What is 175 divided by 15?" which the student knows the computer can calculate in a microsecond without the guilt-trip of getting it wrong.

As mentioned above this type of program relies on self-motivation for successful outcomes. If self-motivation is a problem then this type of program needs to come supplied with entertainment hooks to entice the student to press on. Cartoon segments are a good example. With these additional features, a self-tutor can succeed where a maths text book, with answers to exercises back with the index, fails.

Where a skill is being developed, the student can see this benefit by being able to display this skill in other areas. This is why this paradigm is good for a typing tutor. But for practising long division it is prone to abuse because the student can resort to a calculator.

In such cases it is better to pose questions which require comprehensive as well as calculating skills. Arithmetic questions should be couched in forms like "If 10 men can dig a ditch 2 km long in 12 days, how long will it take 12 men to dig a ditch 4 km long?" or "Find the cost of making a path 1m wide around a lawn 10m square at a cost of $15 per square m". The construction industry is an infinite source of complex arithmetic questions. The good part about this is that with careful programming, generating random sequences of such questions is quite possible. Such programs are not cheap but they can also be enhanced by delivering rewarding graphics.

There are programs that are quite good at delivering simple arithmetic tutoring to children. However children should probably have basic arithmetic skills at preschool age and prior to acquiring computer skills. Videos such as Sesame Street deliver basics of reading and counting skills in a childs world of socially based rewards. The computer programs are more useful for remedial teaching, but are not usually designed at that level.

The lack of socially recognised rewards is a major issue, particularly for younger children. It is questionable whether basic arithmetic skills should be developed using self-tutors from a psychological standpoint of child development and integration into society.

Self-tutors have been used in schools for so long that there is now a generation of teachers who were subject to these instruments of boredom during their school years. Comments are mainly negative. There are two main complaints. Firstly that these programs were used as relief teachers to give the teahcers time-out because maybe they had partied too hard that weekend. And yes, those children knew they were being short-changed by their teachers. The second complaint is that the level of study that they were set was too low for them and there was no challenge. Maybe only the brighter children had this complaint, but even so there is little reason they could not have been given a higher level to work on.

It is evident that self-tutors were, and probably still are, being used in classrooms as a baby-sitting function instead of being used for education. Maybe it was a perception of teachers that this was all that they were good for, or maybe the teachers were just selfish and lazy. Whatever the reason, it is evident that the use of self-tutors in the classroom is open to rampant abuse of the students, particularly the very students who come to school to learn.

Self-tutors cannot be used for assessment unless they are used "in-house" within the school in a supervised environment where it can be verified that the student has indeed performed the exercises. Self tutors are not necessarily equipped with this extra layer of supervisory capability. Often it is assumed that the student is working entirely out of self-motivation to achieve, in isolation.

Multi-user self-tutors are applications written specifically for classroom situations. They are more likely to have a supervisory capability, and to cater for multi-streaming, allowing advanced students to proceed at their own accelerated pace. However with a multi-user system, there is even more of a likelihood that the program will be used to baby-sit a class, allowing the teacher to opt out of delivering an education experience. It is obvious from reading 100's of personal anecdotes on this subject that teachers who did this were considered less than dirt by their students, of whatever age. This abuse is obviously bad for class and student morale to an extent that schools may not be aware of.

Best examples

Any offers?

7.7   The Web Form        

This is a simple webpage like the guestbook exercise or the colour comparison exercise where questions are asked on the webpage and a form on the webpage is completed and posted back to the server. Answers are checked either by the teacher reviewing the postings from each student or by a program.

Using this method students can work at home doing assignments and post them directly to the teacher for review. At the receiving end the server may simply accept the data posted by the student. Typically it will store the data under the students name and may be programmed to "validate" the posting if appropriate. In an elaborate case it may send a reply of mistakes for correction back to the student or an additional task to perform.

As described above this is a low-tech method of programming class material which students and teachers can use to collect information and opinions. Because these web pages will tend to be home-grown there is a sense that the webpage "belongs" to the teacher or the class or the school, particulalry if students have created their own and understand the processes involved. This is a hands-on technology that students and teachers can feel that they own and make their own. This gives it a sense of immediate social validity.

As with the self-tutor,this paradigm is not so suitable for simple mathematics type questions. The computer or copying can be used to get the answers. One way to limit this is to ask questions in a way that requires constructive logic. Here is a Tcl programming example:

Given the command [set x {A BC K}] to provide the capital letters, write a single Tcl command using the variable x which returns the value {BACK}

This is appropriate to the constructive problem solving nature of programming for which we often know the answer but have to work out how to construct it given certain materials.

Such webpage assignments that are "homegrown" can be made available free of copyright and can be used by many schools without fear of copyright infringement of propriety product which typically attaches to products like self-tutors.

Care should be taken that webpage assignments are not directed exclusively towards authoritarian assessment. It is easy to use a computers "hard" processes to demand "hard fixed" answers in assignments. This tendency is open to abuse and a balance with perception and observation oriented responses should be sought.

Because of the basic nature of webpage assignments it is not viable to include elaborate "stroking rewards" in the webpage paradigm. Teachers should not attempt to send back a reply page complimenting the student if he has responded promptly. Students will be all too aware that the response has been computer generated and means nothing more than an insincere attempt to flatter. Our world is already quite cynical enough. For this reason it is important to design webpage assignments in which the student will learn something new during the process of doing the experiment, and may also learn from the collective results of the class.

Because the webpage assignments are basically an exercise in form filling, students without access to a computer can use printed copies of the form and return the filled in forms.



Best examples

The colour comparison webpage is a good example because the questions asked are about the students perception. There are no "wrong" answers therefore copying is not an issue. Nevertheless the student learns from the process of performing the tasks. And will also learn from the tabulated results of the class experiment. In addition the student can experiment with the colour laboratory which the webpage represents and find out more about colour effects. However the nature of this particular exercise excludes non-computer users (which is probably true of the best examples).

7.8   The Client/Server Paradigm        

This is a combination of the best of the two previous methods. Here a dedicated server serves tasks to the students who individually respond and are assessed by the server or the teacher. Marks can be compiled and tabulated by the server. This kind of system could typically grow out of an elaboration of some webpage assignments.

This architecture consists of two separate programs, the server residing on the school system and a client residing on the students computer. Tcl/Tk is an ideal language for writing such applications, as the client component can be delivered to the student computer over the net in text form regardless of the operating system the student may use. In addition, the client may be run by the student safely using Tcl's safe socket protocols. The delivered client will run on the students computer using that computers native "look and feel", meaning that it will use the students own system functions to achieve most of its effects and not look or feel different to what the student might expect. Also the client can be run in a classroom on the students own laptop connected by modem to the server over the schools local network (LAN) or on a dumb or intelligent school terminal.

This system is the best option for mechanical mathematical type exercises. The best scenario is for the tasks to be done by the students in class. The teacher can monitor the progress of each student from his desk during the course of the class. This avoids copying, access to other support materials and "student substitution".

A major issue will arise here as some students will move ahead of the rest of the class while a few will lag behind. This means that a teacher will typically be faced with a class whom he can never address as a whole. In other cultures, this is handled by getting the forward students to act as tutors for the backward students on completion of their own tasks. With a written exercise paradigm it has not been possible to do this in practice, but by using the server to monitor students progress the teacher will be able to assign advanced students to act as tutors. Schools boards may have to make policy decisions as to whether they wish this process to happen in their classrooms. The obvious benefit from this is that some students will learn aspects of teaching and the socially integrated rewards of this process.

One may ask what is so different between this and webform architecture. The webform setup does indeed have a server, the webserver and maybe also a database server. The client uses a webbrowser as the client program. But this is a general purpose soultion as provided by the web. The type of system being referred to here would replace the webserver with a spefici application server with specific educational functions. Such systems have been written in the past in education research lab situations. As far as I know, none have made it into common usage.



Best examples

Any offers?

7.9   Curriculum Area resources        

7.9.1   General Curriculum Resources        

7.9.2   Language and Languages        

English Level 1-8

7.9.3   Resources for Projects        

A school needs to think carefully about what kind of infrastructure it intends to support to aid students in their work to create and present interesting material. Initially assume that the school provides a resource base of tools and information for students to access and use to complete assignments, essays and projects. This does not include net access.

A typical personal project is a personal webpage. It has been recommended that students be encouraged to have their own webpages as early as possible. However, in order to create interesting fresh novel and individual webpages students will want to explore and use as many tools as they possibly can. This includes animated images, 2-D graphics modelled in 3-D. Dynamic webpages, VRML, their own guestbook and so on.

The extent to which a school can support a range of these tools for students to try out will help determine how creative the students can be. Not only supply the tools but also give guidance on which tools to use to achieve certain effects.

As an example, a student could waste a lot of time searching the web in an attempt to find just the background image he has in mind for his webpage, when with a simple tool he could modify an existing image that was similar to what he wanted. This is the kind of guidance that a teacher involved in the personal webpage project could provide.

A school or group of schools could maintain a set of basic tools which is kept "state of the art" as a "one stop shop" for students creating their webpages: using the rule, if it is not there or you cant make it with these tools then dont look any further. The library must be kept "state of the art" because students will discover very quickly if important new developments have not been followed up and the library will quickly be discredited.

There are major problems with specifying this toolset and making it available for use.

The answer to these problems is to develop a set of tools that meets the needs of the school and the students. Tools that are tailored to the students knowledge level, culture and technological capability.

Some of the exercises such as the Text Editor and Graphical Image Editor show what can be achieved. Simple compact tools scaled to beginner level can be written. Versions can be written to support various cultures. Versions can be written which contain progressively more complex features. These programs can be written by senior students. However they do require dedicated teaching staff to manage the development and maintenance of these suites of tools. This job could possibly be done at national level by a manager based at a school and working with a group of schools within an area of cultural diversity. Ideally the Education Department could provide special funding for this base to exist at a school in a poor economic area.

Using this method overcomes all the problems mentioned above and if used on a National scale could well be cheaper then having schools buy proprietary products or even buy the computer systems large enough to house the proprietary products. As can be seen from the examples, useful tools can be writtin in Tcl which are typically a tenth the size of proprietary products.

7.10   Managing the Infrastructure        

7.11   Wild Creatures        

7.12   Teaching in the Web Age        

The introduction of computers as a teaching resource in the classroom or in the school has caused teachers to reasses their teaching methods. This reassessment has also included a look askance at teaching goals. This is largely a reaction to the feeling that teachers are teaching the mechanics of how to use computers and software, rather than teaching principles. This in turn has prompted a look at teaching learning skills in the form of metacognition and other concepts of meta-learning. There are problems here, since metaphysics of any kind is usually beyond the grasp of children except the odd genius, and is generally beyond the grasp of most adults. This is a subject in the province of meta-teachers, those who teach teachers how to teach, rather than those struggling to deliver curriculum to students. A gap has developed at the coalface, at the point where the product is delivered, where teaching is done in the classroom. This is a gap between what teachers are finding themselves doing and what they believe they should be doing.

The result of this discourse is that simple learning practises that have been taught directly for decades are now being taught couched in metalanguage. Part of the reason for this is that teachers have for the last 20 years not been taught many of these principles nor how to teach them. So some catching up is required. On the other hand there is some confusion that the metacognition which is being discussed be taught directly to children. The result is absurd redundancy and metababble.

All this shifting of educational view is a symptom of a change of state in education which few teachers appear to be aware of. In an attempt to help clarify the process of change which is occurring I will address some comments to it here. The Introduction to webscool is perhaps not the best place for this discussion, but it seems to be the suitable place at present.

The sense of gap between ideal and practice is not a fiction in the minds of teachers, nor is it a fashionable fad. It is a direct result of the development of the web. The web has produced a change in education preceeded by only two historical events, the invention of printing, and the invention of writing! Both of these inventions had profound repercussions not the least in education. This is a grand assertion which needs to be justified and explained.

Prior to the invention of printing, education was conducted largely in schools of discourse, as an oral form. The teacher had total control of what was taught because he was the fount of knowledge. While books existed they were too expensive to be used for teaching children: they were the province of monasteries and universities. Even in these institutions the availability of books was strictly regulated.

With the invention of printing, books became more readily available. But it was some centuries before they were commonplace in classrooms. Even today school text books are too valuable to be allowed to be taken home by children. The picture in 1990 is not so diferrent from the picture in 990. The teacher is the sole source of information either orally or in the controlled dissemination of written information. Schools have libraries which in recent years have become better endowed, but here again the content and access too it is still controlled. In New Zealand there is also an anti-academic culture which helps maintain control of all education resources. This can be seen to be imposed by teachers themselves who reinforce the fact that excellence in non-acedemic activities is of great social importance. This can be measured by the amount of unpaid time that teachers spend in non-acedemic activities with students. This can be illustrated by the comment - 'If the teachers are on the sports field with the students in their spare time, then what is that other student doing swotting in the school library?' In other words, there is a sense that there is no socially sanctioned place for a student to learn in a school outside of the teaching regime dictated by the teachers. Todays education system is in fact a tyranny, and has been for centuries. Our education system is primarily geared to producing socially compliant and productive individuals.

This system worked fine until the power of science created a rift between progressive schools that embraced science and religious schools that held onto regressive principles. There was no great upheaval as regressive schools were pushed out by a population that embraced the obvious power of the scientific world. Teachers were trained properly, science was introdiced in schools, and the tyrannical system never came under challenge.

But today the system is under challenge because the web gives everyone instant cheap access to every kind of information imaginable. In 1995 a silent revolution occurred in the way information was made available to students. Students can now access data themselves from an effectively unlimited pool. This may seem like a slight change in emphasis, but it is a quantum leap in the manner that this applies to education. Today primary school children have access to information in much the same manner in which adult university students have, and have had for 100 years and more.

It is interesting to note the different modes of operation between schools and universities. At university the student buys text books, researches in large libraries and also off campus. Students are expected to access the information which is required themselves. Students are accepted into courses based on their prior achievement record. Post WW2 a shift occurred in Universities from institutions of innovative thought and critical debate to institutions which more closely resembled secondary schools. With burgeoning roles, and an economic neccessity to produce graduates on paper with purely functional scientific knowledge, students were discouraged from attending lectures for courses in which they were not enrolled. Universities became diploma factories and continue in that manner today. This move to tyranny of curriculum and thought was so evident that "free" and "open" universities were created in reaction to this trend, but not in New Zealand. In New Zealand social compliance is still the determining force even at University level, to the extent that Universities cannot even take up the role of Social Criticism; a role which many consider an essential function of Universities in society, especially in the field of education.

Nothing about the web enforces social compliance. The web fosters diversity, divarication and exploration, creative thought and expression. The web requires us to find a new model for delivering education. One that allows for individual motivation and achievement as well as ensuring social responsibility, compliance and productivity.

Perhaps one way of illustrating the change in mode is to consider the activity of caving. Caves are deep dark unfathomable unknowns with hidden dangers and wonders. Much like the realm of the intellect. The education system as we currently know it could be likened to a guided tour through a tourist cave. One which has been well-explored, mapped out, assessed for its appropriateness for tourist appeal and access, equipped with paths, lighting and other infrastructure to contain and channel the movement of tourists through it. Guides are provided who assemble a party at a given time and take them through a well trodden sequence of pathways delivering a verbal patter which is the guide's own but which owes much to oral tradition. The tourists listen to the guides patter, walk only on the paths, do not touch the objects which they see. The guide dictates where the tourists go, what they see, lights are turned on and off in order to illuminate specific points of interest. Despite the regimentation of this experience the wonder of the cave beguiles us into believing we are having some kind of authentic experience, and we even take part in making up names for picaresque formations in the decorated chambers.

Compare the tourist cave experience to the experience of wild caving. Well, maybe not many of us are previleged to do so.

7.13   The Open School        

The Chapter, The Future, discussed briefly the points that are required for the new education system that will emerge over the next 20 years (2005-2025). Having considered the infrastructure that has been described to support the old extant education system into the present, it is import to look at what the education system will look like in 2025 and see how the current changes in the way we must do things will lead to the evolution of a new stable education system. Exercise 1 - Expand on the topics mentioned in The Economic Model of Information in Education.

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