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Learning platforms - Usage and perceived learning effects
5.3.1 Standardization and training
Another reason that the frustration is high might be because that the learning platform is only one of many systems and that teachers work with fragmented systems. Third party content providers are important to fill up the schools’ digital tool box so to speak. This can also be a bit problematic and limit the development of a digital learning platform. In the schools of this community there are several systems that the teachers need to know in order to have all information needed and to offer pupils content.
At the time of this study the community had OPPAD, OPPAD Web, SharePoint, the Intranet (Episerver), Young Digital Planet, Vokal, PAS, GSI as well as other programs installed locally on one computer. Some are national systems like PAS and GSI, while others are bought by the local municipality.
With so many different kinds of user interfaces it takes time for the teacher to really get to know them all and to use it to its full extent. Sometimes they have to feed different systems with exactly the same information. This makes the systems time consuming.
Another way to look at this is that teachers work with fragmented systems. This makes it almost impossible to have a full overview of the situation and it makes the value of any one system less important. One of the great strengths of a learning platform is the possibility to show contents from different kinds of systems, databases and content providers. But as the content providers want to use their own user interface the teachers is stuck on exploring different kinds of systems that they need to use.
Other industries such as the aviation industry have strict rules when it comes to comes to standardization and commonality of fragmented systems. Perhaps educational programs can draw on their experience. The vast cost and complex nature of the aviation industry calls for strict rules in order both to keep costs down as well as making sure pilots, flight attendants and mechanics instantly know their own procedure. This affects both the safety of an airliner as well as adding value to the bottom line. Wouldn’t these principal be the same for education? If systems were instantly recognizable and everyone knew exactly how it worked there would be more time for education and less time understanding all the systems.
There is no coincidence that the aviation industry is one of the main contributors for standard e-learning content through the organization AICC. AICC is a short for Aviation Industry Computer-Based Training Committee. AICC was formed to address airline concerns about non-standard computing cost in relation to multimedia training. This standard has also been beneficial for learning platforms.When an emergency appears in aviation, the pilots are trained to handle this specific incident without wondering how the cockpit in front of them works. They reach for the right system automatically. This intense focus on training has reduced the risk of flying to a minimum. If a pilot switches to another airplane type, it is required that the pilot has enough training on the new type. This is in contrast with how the teachers have to work with several ICT systems, sometimes without proper training. The user interfaces are very different and the teacher is expected to understand them sometimes without proper training.
It would be reasonable to compare the pilots’ cockpit to the teachers’ systems. All systems could be compared to a cockpit. While in the aviation industry the pilot needs strict training to use one cockpit interface, the teacher is offered limited training and uses much time to fully understand every component.
When Airbus launched their new digital fly by wire cockpit, one of the highlights was that the same cockpit could be used for a plane with 100 passengers as well as a larger one with several hundred passengers. This drastically reduced the need for retraining pilots and flight attendants. It helped Airbus gain more than 50% of large commercial airplane market. Many airlines that have not been focused on keeping their fleet simple end up getting bankrupt.
In public schools no one gets bankrupt. Few understand the complexity of the systems that the teachers are required to learn. Since public schools in Norway are not actively monitoring how much time is needed for understanding a system in detail, no one seems to fully know how much resources and time are going into this. All systems are complex. It takes time to fully understand them and some of the systems require that the teacher do the same reporting more than once. Effectiveness of training and the standardization of systems should be researched more extensively, as more systems are forced upon teachers.
The last section regarding fragmented systems brings up another important question: Are resources stretched too thin in public schools?Public schools in Norway use a lot of money on ICT, so this part is not a discussion about whether enough money is spent on software and hardware or not. The central question concerns human resources and whether or not the money is spent in the best possible way.
When it comes to human resources, there are many tasks for the teacher to address. The schools generally have a limited focus on how much training is needed to implement a new system. How much time is needed each week to maintain a minimum knowhow of each system?
For each system that is acquired, more time will be needed in order to have a minimum level of knowhow of the system. Decision makers and the management at each school need to understand this complexity.
This raises another important question: What about implementation? Could it be possible to merge all systems into one user-interface? That would really simplify the training needs, as well as reduce the time needed to maintain a certain degree of knowledge. In some areas the School Management System (SMS) and Learning Management systems are merged, so that for the teacher it looks like both the SMS and LMS is one product. In this community they are not merged, but the SMS creates user accounts, gives them permissions and makes sure the student, teacher and parent are interconnected and registered at the correct places in the Active Directory (AD). So this learning platform is very dependent on correct information in the SMS.
To date 430 municipalities and all public schools are bound by the same Education act. But there is still little binding cooperation among these 430 municipalities. The Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training has until now had a very conservative approach when it comes to obliging the public schools. This has meant that there is a slow process of integrating new tools and there are few standards for education that public schools can follow.Standardization of tools used in schools is not just a national challenge. It is a global challenge. As noted earlier, the aviation industry has played at huge part in developing standards for e-learning content. Others who have contributed to standards for web based e-learning is the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) with the ADL initiative that resulted in the Shareable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM). Others standards are IMS, IEEE and Ariadne. All these standards help e-learning content, and that is great for LMS. But e-learning content is only one part of the puzzle.
The rest of the information that teachers produce in order to keep track of their pupils, is not subject to any international standards. Regarding standardization, the public schools are too small to mandate one standard alone. The only standard that might be used in Norway is the Noark standard. This standard is used to archive data in Norway. Some schools have been using this to archive sensitive data in schools. But archive systems are usually a very complex and time consuming exercise.